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_1 68030 >E 

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Call No. <&0lf 

R. % i P 

Author ^ l ' 

Title jc^ . 

Th!a LouL -'>^W i^'. -..! *." or 
last marked below. 


A Study of 


Fellow of Magdalene College , Cambridge 
Author of " Principles of Literary Criticism ' 



First Edition . . . . . . 1929 

Second Impression (with a few alterations] 1930 






A CONVENIENT arrangement for the parts of this 
book has not been easy to find. A friendly reader 
will, I think, soon see why. Those who are curious 
to discern what motives prompted me to write it 
will be satisfied most quickly if they begin by 
glancing through Part IV, which might indeed have 
been placed as an Introduction. 

The length of Part II, and a certain unavoidable 
monotony, may prove a stumbling-block. I have 
included very little there, however, that I do not 
discuss again in Part III, and it need not be read 
through continuously. A reader who feels some 
impatience will prudently pass on at once to my 
attempted elucidations, returning to consult the facts 
when a renewed contact with actuality is desired. 

The later chapters of Part III will be found to 
have more general interest than the earlier. 

I am deeply indebted to the living authors of some 
of the poems I have used for their permission to 
print them ; a permission which, in view of the 
peculiar conditions of this experiment, witnesses to 
no slight generosity of spirit. Some contemporary 
poems were necessary for my purpose, to avoid the 
perplexities which * dated ' styles would introduce 
here. But in making the selection I had originally 
no thought of publication. The interest of the 
material supplied me by my commentators and the 
desire that as many types of poetry as possible should 
be represented have been the only reasons for my 
choice. But in those instances in which I have not 



been able to form a high opinion of the poems I 
must ask the forgiveness of the authors and plead 
as excuse a motive which we have in common, the 
advancement of poetry. 

My acknowledgments are due also to the publishers 
of these poems. Details of these obligations will be 
found in Appendix C, in which I have hidden away, 
as far as I could, particulars as to the authorship 
and date of the poems. For obvious reasons the 
interest of these pages will be enhanced if the reader 
remains unaware of the authorship of the poems 
until his own opinions of them have been formed 
and tested by comparison with the many other 
opinions here given. I would, therefore, earnestly 
counsel an intending reader not to consult Appendix 
C until a late stage in his reading. 

I. A. R 

April 1929. 


Call No. g C 'I ' 9 / ^ '^ Accession No. / 4 S2 
'Author |?lChft.^ < , 

Title pKictu<xl c 

This book should be returned on or before the date last marked below. 




The conditions of the experiment ; Its aims ; Field-work in 
comparative ideology, 6. The theory of interpretation, 9. 
Intellectual and emotional navigation, 1 1. Critical principles: 
The indemonstrability of values, 12. The ten difficulties of 
criticism, 13-18. 


POEM I ......... 20 

Doctrine in poetry. Its expression, 21. Noble thoughts, 22. 
Metrical movements, 23. Flabby thoughts, 24. Truth : 
temporal perception, 25. Mnemonic irrelevancies : eternity, ~ 
socialism, the heart, 27. American idiom: 'an inspirational 
bit ', 28. Suggestion as falling in love, 29. 


Rhyming, 34. Other tests for poetry, 35. 'Messages', 36. 
Moral qualms, 37. Renderings, 38. Correspondences of sound 
and sense, 39. Japanese gardening, 40. 

POEM III ......... 42 

Misunderstanding, 43. Anti-religious icaction, 44. Stock 
responses and metre, 45. Moral objections, 46. Technical 
presuppositions and arhitiary renderings, 47. The sound alone : 
pictures in poetry, 49. Mixed metaphor, 50. 


Mental prisms, 53. One man's meat another's poison, 54. 
The correspondence of form and content, 55. Alternating 
personalties, 56. 'Difference in taste', 57. The ascribed 
rhythm, 58. Stock responses, 60. 

POEM V ......... 62 

Obscurity, 63. Incoherence in poetry, 64. A splendid thought 
impossible to grasp, 65. The 'atmosphere of approach', 66. 
Timidity, 67 Immortal beauty, 68. The stock-subject, 69. 
Beliefs in poetry, 70. Tricks of style, 72. Sonnet form, 7<;. 
Incapacity to construe, 76. Sincerity and date, 77. Vacuous 
resonances, 78, 





Mental cleavage, 81. Alternative readings, 82. Blank incom- 
prehension, 85. Excuses, 86 The * family constellation ', 87. 
Analysis, 89. 


Two-way prejudices, 93. Sincerity, 94 * Pathetic fallacies', 96. 
The Cathedral feeling, 96. Sententiousness, 98 Uplift, 99. 
Unity and associations, 100. Nature-poetry, 101. 


Sentimentality and nausea tion, 105. Music in poetry, 106. 
Metaphor, 107. Popular songs, 108. Preconceptions, 109. 
Stock rhythms, 1 10. Verse form, in. Closeness of reading, 1 1 2, 
1 Appalling risk of sentimentality', 113. Carelessness v. 
insincerity, 114. The acceptance struggle, 115. Private 
poetry, 116. 

POEM IX 118 

Occasional poetry, 119. Irrelevancies : royalism, 120 ; re- 
publicanism, 121. The drink problem, 122. Matter and 
movement: communicative efficiency, 124. Colour, 125. 
Exhilaration. 126. Metaphor, 127. Drama, 127. A problem 
of stock responses, 128. 

POEM X 130 

Mnemonic pulls, 131. Visualisation, 132. Unpleasant 
images, 133. Inhumanity, 134. Technical presuppositions: 
ugly and delicate words, 134. Cacophony, 135. Onom- 
atopceia, 136. Represented motion, 137. Prosaicisms, 138. 
Romanticism, 139. Nonsense, 140. Change of tone, 141, 
Shallow moralising, 143. 

POEM XI 146 

Rapture, 147. Personal emotion, 148. Illicit expectations, 148. 
Logic, 149. Obscurity, 149. Poetic diction, 150. Strained 
trash, 151. Bareness and balanced sanity, 152. The middle 
kind of writing, 153. 


Rumbling clouds, 155. Symbolists, 155. * Crystallisation ': 
falling in love, 156. Pathetic fallacy, 157. Chemist's poetry, 158. 
Prosody, 158. Hypnotic movement, 160. Swoon-reading, 161. 

POEM XIII . .162 

Double action of stock responses, 163. Death the leveller, 164. 
'Was what Christian charity?' 165. The mystery of the 
slaves, 166. Conjectures, 167. The monument problem, 168. 
Joanna Southcott's Gladstone bag, 169. Impudent senti- 
mentality, 170. Prosody, 171. Sense and sound, 172. 
Sanctimonious cliches 173. 'Rude' in what sense? 173. 
Fatuous solemnity, 174. Urbanity, 175. Humour, 176. 





The ten difficulties of criticism. The fundamental difficulty : 
making out the meaning, 180. Four aspects of meaning : sense, 
feeling, tone, intention, 181. Relative subordinations of these : 
in scientific writings, 183; in popularisation, 184; in political 
speeches, 185 ; in conversation, 185. Statements in poetry, 186. 
Emotion criticism, 188. 


Causes of misunderstanding, 189. The distraction of metre, 190. 
Intuitive versus over-literal reading, 191. Literalism and 
metaphor, 192. Poetic liberty, 194. Mixture in metaphor, 196. 
Personification, 198; reasons for, 199; advantages of, 200; 
dangers of, 201. Critical comparisons, 201. The diversity of 
aims in poetry, 203. 


Interferences between kinds of meaning, 205. Tone in 
poetry, 206 ; as an index to * sense of proportion ', 207. 
Sense and feeling: three types of interrelation, 210. The pull 
of the context, 212; exerted in two ways: directly between 
feelings, indirectly through sense, 213. Pre-analytic apprehen- 
sion, 214. Methods of improving apprehension, 216. Verbal 
means of analysis for sense and feeling, 217. The dictionary, 218. 
Definition technique for sense, 219. Our comparative helpless- 
ness with feeling, 22O. Projectile adjectives, 220. Metaphor : 
sense metaphors and emotive metaphors, 221. Possibilities of 
training, 223. 


Difficulty of apprehending form due partly to bad assumptions, 
225. The regularity myth, 226. Variation about a norm, 227. 
But rhythm goes deeper than the ear, 227. Inherent rhythm 
and ascribed rhythm, 229. Inherent rhythm as a necessary 
and important skeleton, 230. Damage done by the regularity 
myth and by the independence notion, 231. The danger of 
neglecting sound, 233. Reading aloud, 233. 



Erratic imagery, 235. Visualisers, 236. Irrelevance in 
general, 237. Associations with other poems, 238. The 
personal situation of the reader, 239. Stock responses : their 
omnipresence, 240. Their utility, 240. Demarcation of their 
proper field, 241. As systems of energy, 242. As distorting 
agents, 243. As ground for complaint against variation, 243. 


CHAPTER V continued. 


The stock response as the poem itself, 244. Resultant popu- 
larity, 245. Good and bad stock responses : their origins, 245. 
Withdrawal from experience by deprivation, moral disaster, 
convention, intellectuality, 246, Loss in transmission of ideas, 
248. Home-made notions and genius, 249. And silliness, 251. 
The poet and stock ideas, 253. 

TION 255 

Sentimental' as an abusive gesture, 255. As uttering a 
vague thought, 256. As uttering a precise thought : over- 
facility of emotion, 257; as equivalent to 'crude', 258; as 
deriving from ' sentiment', 259. Sentiments, 260. Their over- 
persistence and warping, 261. Definition of 'sentimental' in 
the third sense, 261. Sentimentality in readers and in poetry, 
261. Causes of, 262. Subject and treatment, 263. The 
justification of the response, 264. Conventional metaphors and 
sentimentality, 264. Autogenous emotions, 266. Inhibition 
as the complement of sentimentality, 267. Necessity of, 268. 
Causes of, 268. Cure of, 269, 


Opposition between readers' and poets' beliefs, 271. Difficulty 
the same whether the belief is important or not, 272. In- 
sufficiency of the ' poetic fiction ' solution, 273. Assumptions : 
intellectual and emotional, 274. Distinction between them, 
275. 'Justification' for each kind, 276. Logic and choice, 
277. Adjustment of emotional and intellectual claims, 278. 
Appearance of insincerity, 279. Sincerity as absence of self- 
deception, 280. As genuineness, 281. Spontaneity and 
sophistication, 282. Sincerity as self-completion, 284. De- 
pendent upon a fundamental need, 286. Sincerity and intuition, 
287. Improvement in sincerity, 289. Poetry as an exercise in 
sincerity, 291. 



Our expectations from poetry, 292. Confusions between means 
and ends, 293. Encouraged by the language of criticism, 294. 
The Summation of details blunder, 295. No critical theory is 
directly useful, 296. Examples: the subject and message 
tests, 297. The * lilt ' quest, 298. Critical dogmas as primitive 
superstitions, 299. Their duplicity, 300. The disablement of 
judgment, 301. The rule of choice, 301. Principles only 
protective, 302. Critical infallibity, 304. 




l. Standing of writers. 2. Immaturity. 3. Lack of 
reading. 4. Inability to construe. 5. Stock responses. 
6. Preconceptions. 7. Bewilderment. 8. Authority. 
9. Variability. 10. General values. 


11. Abuse of psychology. 12. Profanation. 13. Prudential 
speech. 14. Understanding. 15. Confusions. 16. Further 
dissection. 17. Order. 


18. The teaching of English. 19. Practical suggestions. 
20. The decline in speech. 21 Prose. 22. Critical fog. 
23. Subjectivity. 24. Humility. 


I. Further notes on meaning. 2. Intention. 3. /Esthetic 
adjectives. 4. Rhythm and Prosody. 5. Visual images. 


The relative popularity of the poems. 

APPENDIX C ........ 367 

The authorship of the poems. 

The reader is recommended not to consult this Appendix until 

he has read throu ijh Part II. 


The Poems as originally set before the readers. 

INDEX 373 




I HAVE set three aims before me in constructing this 
book. First, to introduce a new kind of documenta- 
tion to those who are interested in the contemporary 
state of culture whether as critics, as philosophers, 
as teachers, as psychologists, or merely as curious 
persons. Secondly, to provide a new technique for 
those who wish to discover for themselves what they 
think and feel about poetry (and cognate matters) 
and why they should like or dislike it. Thirdly, to 
prepare the way for educational methods more 
efficient than those we use now in developing dis- 
crimination and the power to understand what we 
hear and read. 

For the first purpose I have used copious quota- 
tions from material supplied to me as a Lecturer at 
Cambridge and elsewhere. For some years I have 
made the experiment of issuing printed sheets of 
poems ranging in character from a poem by Shake- 
speare to a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox to 
audiences who were requested to comment freely 
in writing upon them. The authorship of the poems 
was not revealed, and with rare exceptions it was not 

After a week's interval I would collect these com- 
ments, taking certain obvious precautions to pre- 
serve the anonymity of the commentators, since 
only through anonymity could complete liberty to 
express their genuine opinions be secured for the 
writers. Care was taken to refrain from influencing 
them either for or against any poem. Four poems 
were issued at a time in groupings indicated in the 


Appendix, in which the poems I am here using will 
be found. I would, as a rule, hint that the poems 
were perhaps a mixed lot, but that was the full 
extent of my interference. I lectured the following 
week partly upon the poems, but rather more upon 
the comments, or protocols, as I call them. 

Much astonishment both for the protocol-writers 
and for the Lecturer ensued from this procedure. 
The opinions expressed were not arrived at lightly 
or from one reading of the poems only. As a measure 
of indirect suggestion, I asked each writer to record 
on his protocol the number of ' readings ' made of 
each poem. A number of perusals made at one 
session were to be counted together as one * reading ' 
provided that they aroused and sustained one single 
growing response to the poem, or alternatively led 
to no response at all and left the reader with nothing 
but the bare words before him on the paper. This 
description of a c reading ' was, I believe, well 
understood. It follows that readers who recorded 
as many as ten or a dozen readings had devoted no 
little time and energy to their critical endeavour. 
Few writers gave less than four attacks to any of 
the poems. On the whole it is fairly safe to assert 
that the poems received much more thorough study 
than, shall we say, most anthology pieces get in the 
ordinary course. It is from this thoroughness, 
prompted by the desire to arrive at some definite 
expressible opinion, and from the week's leisure 
allowed that these protocols derive their significance. 

The standing of the writers must be made clear. 
The majority were undergraduates reading English 
with a view to an Honours Degree. A considerable 
number were reading other subjects but there is no 
ground to suppose that these differed for this reason 
in any essential respect. There was a sprinkling of 
graduates, and a few members of the audience were 
non-academic. Men and women were probably 


included in about equal numbers, so, in what follows 
* he ' must constantly be read as equivalent to ' he 
or she'. There was no compulsion to return pro- 
tocols. Those who took the trouble to write about 
60 per cent. may be presumed to have been actu- 
ated by a more than ordinarily keen interest in 
poetry. From such comparisons as I have been 
able to make with protocols supplied by audiences 
of other types, I see no reason whatever to think 
that a higher standard of critical discernment can 
easily be found under our present cultural conditions. 
Doubtless, could the Royal Society of Literature or 
the Academic Committee of the English Association 
be impounded for purposes of experiment we might 
expect greater uniformity in the comments or at 
least in their style, and a more wary approach as 
regards some of the dangers of the test. But with 
regard to equally essential matters occasions for 
surprise might still occur. The precise conditions 
of this test are not duplicated in our everyday com- 
merce with literature. Even the reviewers of new 
verse have as a rule a considerable body of the 
author's work to judge by. And editorial complaints 
are frequent as to the difficulty of obtaining good 
reviewing. Editors themselves will not be the 
slowest to agree with me upon the difficulty of 
judging verse without a hint as to its provenance. 

Enough, for the moment, about the documentation 
of this book. My second aim is more ambitious and 
requires more explanation. It forms part of a general 
attempt to modify our procedure in certain forms of 
discussion. There are subjects mathematics, 
physics and the descriptive sciences supply some of 
them which can be discussed in terms of verifiable 
facts and precise hypotheses. There are other 
subjects the concrete affairs of commerce, law, 
organisation and police work which can be handled 
by rules of thumb and generally accepted conven- 


tions. But in between is the vast corpus of problems, 
assumptions, adumbrations, fictions, prejudices, 
tenets ; the sphere of random beliefs and hopeful 
guesses ; the whole world, in brief, of abstract opinion 
and disputation about matters of feeling. To this 
world belongs everything about which civilised man 
cares most. I need only instance ethics, metaphysics, 
morals, religion, aesthetics, and the discussions sur- 
rounding liberty, nationality, justice, love, truth, 
faith and knowledge to make this plain. As a subject- 
matter for discussion, poetry is a central and typical 
denizen of this world. It is so both by its own nature 
and by the type of discussion with which it is tradi- 
tionally associated. It serves, therefore, as an emin- 
ently suitable bait for anyone who wishes to trap the 
current opinions and responses in this middle field 
for the purpose of examining and comparing them, 
and with a view to advancing our knowledge of what 
may be called the natural history of human opinions 
and feelings. 

In part then this book is the record of a piece of 
field-work in comparative ideology. But I hope, not 
only to present an instructive collection of con- 
temporary opinions, presuppositions, theories, beliefs, 
responses and the rest, but also to make some 
suggestions towards a better control of these tricksy 
components of our lives. The way in which it is 
hoped to do this can only be briefly indicated at this 

There are two ways of interpreting all but a very 
few utterances. 

Whenever we hear or read any not too nonsensical 
opinion, a tendency so strong and so automatic that 
it must have been formed along with our earliest 
speech-habits, leads us to consider what seems to be 
said rather than the mental operations of the person 
who said it. If the speaker is a recognised and 
obvious liar this tendency is, of course, arrested. 


We do then neglect what he has said and turn our 
attention instead to the motives or mechanisms that 
have caused him to say it. But ordinarily we at 
once try to consider the objects his words seem to 
stand for and not the mental goings-on that led him 
to use the words. We say that we * follow his 
thought ' and mean, not that we have traced what 
happened in his mind, but merely that we have 
gone through a train of thinking that seems to end 
where he ended. We are in fact so anxious to dis- 
cover whether we agree or not with what is being 
said that we overlook the mind that says it, unless 
some very special circumstance calls us back. 

Compare now the attitude to speech of the alienist 
attempting to * follow ' the ravings of mania or the 
dream maunderings of a neurotic. I do not suggest 
that we should treat one another altogether as 
c mental cases ' l but merely that for some subject- 
matters and some types of discussion the alienist's 
attitude, his direction of attention, his order or plan 
of interpretation, is far more fruitful, and would lead 
to better understanding on both sides of the dis- 
cussion, than the usual method that our language- 
habits force upon us. For normal minds are easier 
to ' follow ' than diseased minds, and even more 
can be learned by adopting the psychologist's atti- 
tude to ordinary speech-situations than by studying 

It is very strange that we have no simple verbal 
means by which to describe these two different kinds 
of * meaning'. Some device as unmistakable as the 
' up ' or * dowrf** of a railway signal ought to be 

1 A few touches of the clinical manner will, however, be not out of 
place in these pages, if only to counteract the indecent tendencies^ of 
the scene. For here are our friends and neighbours nay our very 
brothers and sisters caught at a moment of abandon giving them- 
selves and their literary reputations away with an unexampled freedom. 
!t is indeed a sobering spectacle,*but like some sights of the hospital- 
ward very serviceable to restore proportions and recall to us what 
humanity, behind all its lendings and pretences, is like. 


available. But there is none. Clumsy and pedantic 
looking psychological periphrases have to be em- 
ployed instead. I shall, however, try to use one 
piece of shorthand consistently. In handling the 
piles of material supplied by the protocols I shall 
keep the term ' statement ' for those utterances 
whose ' meaning ' in the sense of what they say, or 
purport to say, is the prime object of interest. I 
shall reserve the term * expression ' for those utter- 
ances where it is the mental operations of the writers 
which are to be considered. 

When the full range of this distinction is realised 
the study of criticism takes on a new significance. 
But the distinction is not easy to observe. Even the 
firmest resolution will be constantly broken down, 
so strong are our native language habits. When 
views that seem to conflict with our own pre- 
possessions are set before us, the impulse to refute, 
to combat or to reconstruct them, rather than to 
investigate them, is all but overwhelming. So the 
history of criticism, 1 like the history of all the middle 
subjects alluded to above, is a history of dogmatism 
and argumentation rather than a history of research. 
And like all such histories the chief lesson to be 
learnt from it is the futility of all argumentation that 
precedes understanding. We cannot profitably 
attack any opinion until we have discovered what it 
expresses as well as what it states ; and our present 
technique for investigating opinions must be ad- 
mitted, for all these middle subjects, to be woefully 

Therefore, the second aim of this book is to 
improve this technique. We shall have before us 
several hundreds of opinions upon particular aspects 
of poetry, and the poems themselves to help us to 

1 We shall meet in the protocols plenty of living instances of famous 
critical doctrines that are often thought to be now merely curiosities 
of opinion long since extinct. 


examine them. We shall have the great advantage 
of being able to compare numbers of extremely 
different opinions upon the same point. We shall 
be able to study what may be called the same opinion 
in different stages of development as it comes from 
different minds. And further, we shall be able in 
many instances to see what happens to a given 
opinion, when it is applied to a different detail or 
a different poem. 

The effect of all this is remarkable. When the 
first dizzy bewilderment has worn off, as it very 
soon does, it is as though we were strolling through 
and about a building that hitherto we were only 
able to see from one or two distant standpoints. 
We gain a much more intimate understanding both 
of the poem and of the opinions it provokes. 1 Some- 
thing like a plan of the most usual approaches can 
be sketched and we learn what to expect when a 
new object, a new poem, comes up for discussion. 

It is as a step towards another training and 
technique in discussion that I would best like this 
book to be regarded. If we are to begin to under- 
stand half the opinions which appear in the protocols 
we shall need no little mental plasticity. And in 
the course of our comparisons, interpretations and 
extrapolations something like a plan of the ways in 
which the likely ambiguities of any given term or 
opinion-formula may radiate will make itself appar- 
ent. For the hope of a new technique in discussion 
lies in this : that the study of the ambiguities of one 
term assists in the elucidation of another. To trace 
the meanings of ' sentimentality', * truth', ' sincerity', 
or * meaning ' itself, as these terms are used in 
criticism, can help us with other words used in other 

1 A strange light, incidentally, is thrown upon the sources of 
popularity for poetry. Indeed I am not without fears that my efforts 
may prove of assistance to young poets (and others) desiring to 
increase their sales. A set of formulas for ' nation-wide appeal* 
seems to be a just possible outcome. 


topics. Ambiguity in fact is systematic ; the separate 
senses that a word may have are related to one 
another, if not as strictly as the various aspects of 
a building, at least to a remarkable extent. Some- 
thing comparable to a ' perspective ' which will 
include and enable us to control and ' place ' the 
rival meanings that bewilder us in discussion and 
hide our minds from one another can be worked out. 
Perhaps every intelligence that has ever reflected 
upon this matter will agree that this may be so. 
Every one agrees but no one does any research into 
the matter, although this is an affair in which even 
the slightest step forward affects the whole frontier 
line of human thought and discussion. 

The indispensable instrument for this inquiry is 
psychology. I am anxious to meet as far as may be 
the objection that may be brought by some psycho- 
logists, and these the best, that the protocols do not 
supply enough evidence for us really to be able to 
make out the motives of the writers and that there- 
fore the whole investigation is superficial. But the 
beginning of every research ought to be superficial, 
and to find something to investigate that is accessible 
and detachable is one of the chief difficulties of 
psychology, I believe the chief merit of the experi- 
ment here made is that it gives us this. Had I 
wished to plumb the depths of these writers' Un- 
conscious, where I am quite willing to agree the 
real motives of their likings and dislikings would 
be found, I should have devised something like a 
branch of psychoanalytic technique for the pur- 
pose. But it was clear that little progress would 
be made if we attempted to drag too deep a plough. 
However, even as it is, enough strange material 
is turned up. 

After these explanations the reader will be pre- 
pared to find little argumentation in these pages, 
but much analysis, much rather strenuous exercise 


in changing our ground and a good deal of rather 
intricate navigation. Navigation, in fact the art of 
knowing where we are wherever, as mental travellers, 
we may go is the main subject of the book. To 
discuss poetry and the ways in which it may be 
approached, appreciated and judged is, of course, 
its prime purpose. But poetry itself is a mode of 
communication. What it communicates and how 
it does so and the worth of what is communicated 
form the subject-matter of criticism. It follows that 
criticism itself is very largely, though not wholly, an 
exercise in navigation. It is all the more surprising 
then that no treatise on the art and science of 
intellectual and emotional navigation has yet been 
written ; for logic, which might appear to cover 
part of this field, in actuality hardly touches it. 

That the one and only goal of all critical en- 
deavours, of all interpretation, appreciation, exhorta- 
tion, praise or abuse, is improvement in communica- 
tion may seem an exaggeration. But in practice it is 
so. The whole apparatus of critical rules and prin- 
ciples is a means to the attainment of finer, more 
precise, more discriminating communication. There 
is, it is true, a valuation side to criticism. When we 
have solved, completely, the communication problem, 
when we have got, perfectly, the experience, the 
mental condition relevant to the poem, we have still 
to judge it, still to decide upon its worth. But the 
later question nearly always settles itself ; or rather, 
our own inmost nature and the nature of the world 
in which we live decide it for us. Our prime 
endeavour must be to get the relevant mental con- 
dition and then see what happens. If we cannot 
then decide whether it is good or bad, it is doubtful 
whether any principles, however refined and subtle, 
can help us much. Without the capacity to get the 
experience they cannot help us at all. This is still 
clearer if we consider the use of critical maxims in 


teaching. Value cannot be demonstrated except 
through the communication of what is valuable. 

Critical principles, in fact, need wary handling. 
They can never be a substitute for discernment 
though they may assist us to avoid unnecessary 
blunders. There has hardly ever been a critical 
rule, principle or maxim which has not been for 
wise men a helpful guide but for fools a will-o'-the- 
wisp. All the great watchwords of criticism from 
Aristotle's c Poetry is an imitation ' down to the 
doctrine that c Poetry is expression', are ambiguous 
pointers that different people follow to very different 
destinations. Even the most sagacious critical prin- 
ciples may, as we shall see, become merely a 
cover for critical ineptitude ; and the most trivial or 
baseless generalisation may really mask good and 
discerning judgment. Everything turns upon how 
the principles are applied. It is to be feared that 
critical formulas, even the best, are responsible for 
more bad judgment than good, because it is far 
easier to forget their subtle sense and apply them 
crudely than to remember it and apply them finely. 

The astonishing variety of human responses makes 
irksome any too systematic scheme for arranging 
these extracts. I wish to present a sufficient selection 
to bring the situation concretely before the reader, 
reserving to the chapters of Part III any serious 
attempt to clear up the various difficulties with 
which the protocol-writers have been struggling. I 
shall proceed poem by poem, allowing the internal 
drama latent in every clash of opinion, of taste or 
temperament to guide the arrangement. Not all 
the poems, needless to say, raise the same problems 
in equal measure. In most, some one outstanding 
difficulty, some special occasion for a division of 
minds, takes precedence. 


It is convenient therefore to place here a some- 
what arbitrary list of the principal difficulties that 
may be encountered by one reader or another in the 
presence of almost any poem. This list is suggested 
by a study of the protocols themselves, and drawn 
up in an order which proceeds from the simplest, 
infant's, obstacle to successful reading up to the 
most insidious, intangible and bewildering of critical 

If some of these difficulties seem so simple as to 
be hardly worth discussion, I would beg my reader 
who feels a temptation to despise them not to leap 
lightly to his decision. Part of my purpose is docu- 
mentation and I am confident of showing that the 
simple difficulties are those that most need attention 
as they are those that in fact receive least. 

We soon advance, however, to points on which 
more doubt may be felt where controversy, more 
and less enlightened, still continues and we finish 
face to face with questions which no one will pretend 
are yet settled and with some which will not be 
settled till the Day of Judgment. In the memorable 
words of Benjamin Paul Blood, ' What is concluded 
that we should conclude anything about it ? ' 

The following seem to be the chief difficulties of 
criticism or, at least, those which we shall have most 
occasion to consider here : 

A. First must come the difficulty of making out the 
plain sense of poetry. The most disturbing and 
impressive fact brought out by this experiment 
is that a large proportion of average-to-good 
(and in some cases, certainly, devoted) readers 
of poetry frequently and repeatedly fail to under- 
stand it, both as a statement and as an expression. 
They fail to make out its prose sense, its plain, 
overt meaning, as a set of ordinary, intelligible, 
English sentences, taken quite apart from any 


further poetic significance. And equally, they 
misapprehend its feeling, its tone, and its in- 
tention. They would travesty it in a paraphrase. 
They fail to construe it just as a schoolboy fails 
to construe a piece of Caesar. How serious in 
its effects in different instances this failure may 
be, we shall have to consider with care. It 
is not confined to one class of readers ; not 
only those whom we would suspect fall victims. 
Nor is it only the most abstruse poetry which 
so betrays us. In fact, to set down, for once, 
the brutal truth, no immunity is possessed on 
any occasion, not by the most reputable scholar, 
from this or any other of these critical dangers. 

B. Parallel to, and not unconnected with, these 

difficulties of interpreting the meaning are the 
difficulties of sensuous apprehension. Words in 
sequence have a form to the mind's ear and 
the mind's tongue and larynx, even when 
silently read. They have a movement and 
may have a rhythm. The gulf is wide be- 
tween a reader who naturally and immediately 
perceives this form and movement (by a con- 
junction of sensory, intellectual and emotional 
sagacity) and another reader, who either ignores 
it or has to build it up laboriously with finger- 
counting, table-tapping and the rest ; and this 
difference has most far-reaching effects. 

C. Next may come those difficulties that are con- 

nected with the place of imagery , principally 
visual imagery, in poetic reading. They arise 
in part from the incurable fact that we differ 
immensely in our capacity to visualise, and to 
produce imagery of the other senses. Also 
the importance of our imagery as a whole, as 
well as of some pet particular type of image, 
in our mental lives varies surprisingly. Some 


minds can do nothing and get nowhere without 
images ; others seem to be able to do everything 
and get anywhere, reach any and every state of 
thought and feeling without making use of them. 
Poets on the whole (though by no means all 
poets always) may be suspected of exceptional 
imaging capacity, and some readers are con- 
stitutionally prone to stress the place of imagery 
in reading, to pay great attention to it, and even 
to judge the value of the poetry by the images 
it excites in them. But images are erratic 
things ; lively images aroused in one mind need 
have on similarity to the equally lively images 
stirred by the same line of poetry in another, 
and neither set need have anything to do with 
any images which may have existed in the poet's 
mind. Here is a troublesome source of critical 

D. Thirdly, more obviously, we have to note the 

powerful very pervasive influence of mnemonic 
irrelevances. These are misleading effects of the 
reader's being reminded of some personal scene 
or adventure, erratic associations, the interfer- 
ence of emotional reverberations from a past 
which may have nothing to do with the poem. 
Relevance is not an easy notion to define or 
to apply, though some instances of irrelevant 
intrusions are among the simplest of all accidents 
to diagnose. 

E. More puzzling and more interesting are the 

critical traps that surround what may be called 
Stock Responses. These have their opportunity 
whenever a poem seems to, or does, involve 
views and emotions already fully prepared in 
the reader's mind, so that what happens appears 
to be more of the reader's doing than the poet's. 
The button is pressed, and then the author's 


work is done, for immediately the record starts 
playing in quasi- (or total) independence of the 
poem which is supposed to be its origin or 

Whenever this lamentable redistribution of 
the poet's and reader's share in the labour of 
poetry occurs, or is in danger of occurring, we 
require to be especially on our guard. Every 
kind of injustice may be committed as well by 
those who just escape as by those who are caught. 

F. Sentimentality is a peril that needs less comment 

here. It is a question of the due measure of 
response . This over-facility in certain emotional 
directions is the Scylla whose Charybdis is 

G, Inhibition. This, as much as Sentimentality, is a 

positive phenomenon, though less studied until 
recent years and somewhat masked under the 
title of Hardness of Heart. But neither can 
well be considered in isolation. 

H. ' Doctrinal Adhesions present another troublesome 
problem. Very much poetry religious poetry 
may be instanced seems to contain or imply 
views and beliefs, true or false, about the world. 
If this be so, what bearing has the truth-value 
of the views upon the worth of the poetry ? 
Even if it be not so, if the beliefs are not really 
contained or implied, but only seem so to a non- 
poetical reading, what should be the bearing 
of the reader's conviction, if any, upon his 
estimate of the poetry ? Has poetry anything 
to say ; if not, why not, and if so, how ? 
Difficulties at this point are a fertile source of 
confusion and erratic judgment. 

I. Passing now to a different order of difficulties, the 

I effects of technical presuppositions have to be 

noted. When something has once been well 


done in a certain fashion we tend to expect 
similar things to be done in the future in the 
same fashion, and are disappointed or do not 
recognise them if they are done differently. 
Conversely, a technique which has shown its 
ineptitude for one purpose tends to become 
discredited for all. Both are cases of mistaking 
means for ends. Whenever we attempt to judge 
poetry from outside by technical details we are 
putting means before ends, and such is our 
ignorance of cause and effect in poetry we 
shall be lucky if we do not make even worse 
blunders. We have to try to avoid judging 
pianists by their hair. 

J. Finally, general critical preconceptions (prior 
demands made upon poetry as a result of 
theories conscious or unconscious about its 
j nature and value), intervene endlessly, as the 
history of criticism shows only too well, between 
the reader and the poem. Like an unlucky 
dietetic formula they may cut him off from 
what he is starving for, even when it is at his 
very lips. 

These difficulties, as will have been observed, are 
not unconnected with one another and indeed over- 
lap. They might have been collected under more 
heads or fewer. Yet, if we set aside certain extreme 
twists or trends of the personality (for example, 
blinding narcissism or grovelling self-abasement 
aberrations, temporary or permanent, of the self- 
regarding sentiment) together with undue accumula- 
tions or depletions of energy, I believe that most of 
the principal obstacles and causes of failure in the 
reading and judgment of poetry may without much 
straining be brought under these ten heads. But 
they are too roughly sketched here for this to be 


More by good luck than by artful design, each 
poem, as a rule, proved an invitation to the mass of 
its readers to grapple with some one of the difficulties 
that have just been indicated. Thus a certain 
sporting interest may be felt by the sagacious critic 
in divining where, in each case, the dividing line of 
opinion will fall, and upon what considerations it 
will turn. No attempt will be made, in the survey 
which follows, to do more than shake out and air 
these variegated opinions. Elucidations, both of the 
poems and the opinions, will be for the^most part 
postponed, as well as my endeavours to 'adjudicate 
upon the poetic worth of the unfortunate subjects of 

A very natural suspicion may fittingly be countered 
in this place. Certain doubts were occasionally ex- 
pressed to me after a lecture that not all the protocol 
extracts were equally genuine. It was hinted that I 
might have myself composed some of those which 
came in most handily to illustrate a point. But none 
of the protocols have been tampered with and nothing 
has been added. I have even left the spelling and 
punctuation unchanged in all significant places. 

But another falsification may perhaps be charged 
against me, falsification through bias in selection. 
Space, and respect for the reader's impatience, 
obviously forbade my printing the whole of my 
material. Selected extracts alone could be ventured. 
With a little cunning it would be possible to make 
selections that would give very different impressions. 
I can only say that I have been on my guard against 
unfairness. I ought to add perhaps that the part of 
the material least adequately represented is the 
havering, non-committal, vague, sit-on-the-fence, 
middle-body of opinion. I would have put in more 
of this if it were not such profitless reading. 


But enough of this ; there is such a variety of game 
springing up before me, that I am distracted in my 
choice, and know not which to follow. It is sufficient 
to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's 

DRYDEN on the Canterbury Pilgrims. 

Life's more than breath and the quick round of blood. 

'Tis a great spirit and a busy heart ; 

The coward and the small in soul scarce do live. 

One generous feeling, one great thought, one deed 

Of good, ere night, would make life longer seem 

Than if each year might number a thousand days 

Spent as is this by nations of mankind. 

We live in deeds, not years ; in thoughts, not breaths ; 

In feelings, not in figures on a dial. 

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives 

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best. 


HERE, for once, in the opinions maintained about 
the central point, Nature shows a taste for system, 
and gives us the rare satisfaction of seeing nearly all 
the logical possibilities well represented in living and 
lively form. The central dispute concerned the place 
and value of the doctrine these verses propound, and 
whether that doctrine be well or ill expressed. 
Differing replies upon these matters were associated 
with high degrees of delight or disgust. That the 
thought contained is true ; that, on the contrary, it 
is false ; that, though true enough, it is common- 
place ; that it is original and profound ; that, as a 
commonplace or as a paradox, it is finely or tamely, 
clearly or confusedly expressed ; these were the ques- 
tions agitated. The various possible answers were so 
well represented that it seems worth while making up 
a table : 

THOUGHT Feeling Metre 

TRUE False 

I Remarkable Commonplace 

\ Profound Obvious 

( Original Trite 

Expression Expression 

Vivid Confused Dull Convincing Obscure Tame 



First let the advocates of its excellence be heard. 

i-ii. 1 Truth is the essence of art, and the outstanding feature 
of this passage is truth. The poet has expressed in vivid terms 
his conception of the higher, if not the highest plane of life and 
we who read his work, cannot fail to appreciate its nobility of 
thought 2 and realise its challenge to mankind. The verse is full 
of sentiment, but sentiment of the best kind. 

Alas ! we often fail to appreciate it, as is lamentably 
shown in what follows. But let those of more elevated 
temper continue. 

i- 12. Here is noble thought clothed fittingly and strikingly in 
powerful verse. The first nine lines especially appeal to me, 
ending, as they do, in effective antithesis. 

1*13. A noble message, well conveyed by the form chosen. 

' Noble ' seems indeed a key-word to this passage. 

1-14. These lines express the thoughts of a lofty soul in a 
simple yet impressive manner. They are lines which are worth 
remembering both on account of their thought and their concise 
and clear expression. The last phrase haunts the mind, but 
apart from this the whole passage moves forward with a gentle 
motion which tends to infix the words on the memory. 

1 This numbering of the protocols is primarily introduced to 
facilitate reference. But the decimal system allows me also to use it 
to suggest certain groupings. The number before the decimal point 
(r to 13* ) indicates the poem which is being discussed. The 
first number after the point suggests, when it remains the same for a 
sequence of extracts, that the same general problem, approach, or 
view is being illustrated. Thus m, ri2, 1-13 . . . have some 
cognate bearing, t>ut with r2 a different general topic has taken its 
place. Similarly with the later decimal places. For example, 1*141, 
1-142 . . . may be especially considered along with 1-14, all being 
concerned in different ways with the same secondary point. (Here 
the metrical qualities of the passage.) 

But I have not attempted to make this numbering strictly 
systematic. It is used as a rough indication of the moments when we 
pass over to a new question ; it is a mere supplement to paragraphing, 
and any reader may neglect it at his discretion. 

Unless otherwise expressly stated a different number implies a 
different writer. 

2 The italics in all cases are mine and are introduced not to distort 
the protocols (the reader will become used to them) but to direct the 
reader's attention without toil to the points with which, for the 
moment, my commentary is concerned or to indicate where 
comparisons may be interesting. 

POEM I 23 

It may seem strange that the phrase ' acts the best ' 
should haunt the mind, but this is possibly not what 
the writer intended. 

Not all those who agree about the lofty jiobility of 
the passage and who most admire its expression are 
at one as to why this expression is to be admired. 

i -14 1. The rather rugged metre makes the best possible setting 
for the noble idea of the poet. It carries one along with it, con- 
veying the idea of someone speaking rapidly, his words almost 
tumbling over each other y in the stress of emotion : an instance 
of how a npble^theme can inspire a poet to clothe it in noble 
diction, without any of the verbal embroideries often employed 
by poets, to^ makejnferiQr thejnes palatable.. 

Words which * almost tumble over one another ' 
and yet ' move forward with a gentle motion ' would 
seem impossibly versatile if we did not know how 
much this kind of movement in verse depends upon 
the reader. Several other views about the verse 
qualities are also found even among admirers. 

i'i42. The thought is the most important thing about this 
poem. The hint of paradox arrests the reader's attention, the 
truth of it gives one a feeling of satisfaction. It is expressed in 
plain , straightforward speech which is the best medium for a 
didactic poem. 

i '143. I admire this because I think the thought expressed is 
true and interesting, and original in that it gives the impression 
of vivid personal experience, and it is of interest to all since it 
concerns all. The choice of common everyday words drives 
home the thought, by connecting it closely to ordinary life. 
The passage gains little from the beauty of rhythm and might 
with little or no loss have been written in prose. 

i '144. A stimulating thought well expressed. The Author 
protests against half-heartedness. The theme, dealing with the 
true way of living, is naturally of a lofty character, and blank, 
verse suits the subject-matter with peculiar felicity. *"" 

i '145. The short phrases in line four and the long sweep in 5, 
6 dying away in 7, are magnificent. 
The last four lines clinch the argument perfectly. 


Let us now hear something of the other side of 
the case before turning to the extreme enthusiasts. 

1-15. The poem is worthless. The underlying idea, that life 
must be measured by its intensity as well as its duration is a 
familiar one. Consequently the poem is to be judged by its 
strength and originality of expression. The author has brought 
no freshness to his material ; his thought is flabby and confused ; 
his verse is pedestrian. Away with him ! 

The next writer adds a complaint which looks as 
though it might apply to much blank verse. 

i'i6. The moralising of this poem is too deliberate to be 
swallowed without a grimace. The poet had a few trite precepts 
of which to deliver himself, and failed to make the pills palatable 
by poetic wrappings. The metre and necessary accentuations 
are awkward, and no relief is offered by any sort of rime scheme. 

Still more severe upon the same point is 1-161 ; 
it is left to 1*162 to restore the balance. 

i-i6i. Excellent prose but not good verse ; not even smallest 
attempt at metre or rhyme. Writer probably more of a philosopher 
than a poet : too matter-of-fact, too little Imagination and Fancy. 

1-162. It is difficult to express one's attitude to this. The 
sentiment is very proper, but fails to rouse one to enthusiasm. 
What does the vague phrase " Spent as this is by nations of 
mankind ", mean ? And the construction from lines 4 to 7 is 
very clumsy. The thing could have been said five times more 
quickly and would have been so in poetry. This is prose, 
c/iopped up to fit a metrical scheme. Contrast its rhetorical 
phrases with the concentration and fullness of No. 3. 

An approach through comparisons is also made by 
1*163 which is more introspective and shows more 
emancipation from the tyranny of the ' message '. 

i '163. Reminded of the pitched-up movement or strong 
artificial accent of post-Elizabethans. But this is without their 
complexity of thought, especially shown in metaphor. Imitative. 
Here the movement becomes more reflective, less an experience ; 
a deliberate loading of rhythm influence of the didactic pre- 
tentions. Wordsworth ? Spurious. Mid-Victorian poetic 
drama ? A collection of commonplace aphorisms on borrowed 
stilts. I accept the statements with indifference. It might 

POEM I 25 

have been written for a Calendar of Great Thoughts. Reading 
it aloud, I have to mouth it, and I felt ridiculously morally 

Truth, of some kind, has hitherto been claimed or 
allowed by all, but more than one of the poet's 
assertions challenged a division. 

I'ly. On reading this my mind jumps up and disagrees 
if living is measured by intensity of feeling, cowards live as much 
as heroes. Line 3 might be parodied with equal truth 

" One wounded feeling, one foul thought, one deed 
Of crime, ere night, would make life longer seem " 

The impression received was one of the self-satisfaction of the 
author (I do not say " poet ") : a spinster devoted to good 
works, and sentimentally inclined, or perhaps Wordsworth. 
Large query to the last line. 

Why Wordsworth's name should be considered 
such a telling missile is uncertain. 

Still more vigorous is dissent upon the temporal 

1-18. Finally I disagree entirely that " great thoughts ", " good 
deeds " or " noble feelings ", make life seem longer, personally 
I feel they make it seem shorter. 

But there are some who refuse to let a little differ- 
ence like this come between them and the poet. 

1-181. This poem expresses for me just that view of the 
difference between existence and life which seems truest. I 
never can conceive of time as some measurement indicated " in 
figures on a dial". Thought is the chief activity regarded as 
foolish or with complete indifference by those with whom one 
comes in contact oftenest, i.e. " the small in soul ". I do not speak 
in any bitterness but from my normal experience. It is this 
conclusion to which I seem to be forced which makes such a stanza 
as this seem to me to be fit to be * shouted from the house tops '. 
That is why it appeals to me. 

I do not agree however that " one great thought, one deed of 
good . . . would make life longer seem ", than it does to men 
each humdrum day, but rather think " shorter " would express the 
idea better. I may think of it in a special sense however, which 
would not appeal to most and which I should find it almost 
impossible to explain, and in any case metaphysics is banned. 
I am sorry, for the idea is always the chief joy to me in poetry. 


I must have been responsible for the ban on meta- 
physics by some request that the protocols should 
deal with the poetry rather than with the Universe. 
The 'stanza' remark may offset 1-16 and 1-161. 
The misanthropy finds a slight echo in 1-182 which 
again expresses doubt based on the facts of Temporal 
Perception ; but a balm for disillusionment is dis- 
covered by 1-183. 

1-182. Good on the whole, though it is doubtful if life really 
seems longer to the good than to the wicked or to the merely 

The lines are worth reading twice because they really do 
express something instead of just drivelling on like those of 
number II. 

1-183. Suggests Browning to me, and is more interesting for 
that reason. But there is in this piece a more all-round handling 
of the idea than Browning would have given it. It seems to be 
the product of a man of middle age, who has taken the sweets of 
life and proved them mere vanity, but who has not turned cynic. 
It is at once healthy and profound. 

Browning figures again in 1-19, where Words- 
worth has some amends made to him. 

1-19. One thought clearly and forcibly expressed. Idea 
expressed in the first two lines, amplified in the next seven and 
finally summed up in the last two. Chief effect a familiar 
thought brought home with new conviction. The rhythm of blank 
verse restraint combined with even flow expressive of the 
meditativeness and yet obvious truth of the idea. The passage 
reminiscent of the whole effort and accomplishment of the 
greatest poets, and in a secondary way of passages in Shakespeare, 
Shelley, Wordsworth, Browning, etc. 

1-191. The thought a little obvious and / don't find anything 
in the expression to drive it home. 

i -192. It is not a new thought, but the symmetry and perfect 
meter makes the old thought more impressive than if said in 
prose. The meter lends dignity, and makes it serious and 

After these jarring voices a more unanimous 
chorus will make a soothing close. It will be noticed 

POEM I 27 

that the central issue, the doctrinal aspect of the 
passage, becomes less and less prominent and that 
Mnemonic Irrelevances and the possibilities of 
Sentimentality take its place. 

1*193. I don't know why, but as soon as I read it, I linked it 
somehow with that poem of Julian GrenfelPs, " Into Battle ", 
and especially with this stanza, which immediately came into 
my mind. 

" The black-bird sings to him, Brother, brother, 

If this be the last song you shall sing, 
Sing well, for you may not sing another, 
Brother, sing." 

I think this was suggested by " we shall count time by heart- 
throbs " once again. A phrase of Robert Lynd's also came into 
my mind " the great hours of life hours of passionate happiness 
and passionate sorrow ". And I thought to myself " how true 
that is. These ARE the only hours in life that mean anything. 
Any why ? Because they lift one to the infinite . . . " le silence 
tternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie I " 

1-194. Appeals to me because it sums up my creed as a Socialist, 
of service not self. A further appeal lies in its emphasis of a fact 
we are too apt to forget, namely, that the real test of life is action 
and nobility of thought and feeling, not length of years. This 
amounts to a solemn warning, and as befits the solemnity of the 
theme the movement is wedded to the thought. The long line 
and the slow movement, rendered more impressive by the 
number of long vowels, hammer the thought into the mind. 

But even the c lofty ideal ' of the passage has its 
turn to be challenged. 

1-195. This appeals ; not as a passion, not by sympathetic 
interests nor as beauty, but by its simple truth and teaching 
a teaching which seems to come from a fellow human being, and 
one to which we may all attain. There is no lofty ideal , the 
regard of which makes us feel poor creatures and realise the 
impossibilities of perfection. True it may be judged sentimental 
if carefully dissected, but some amount of sentiment appeals 
naturally to the instincts of every one : what moral teaching is 
successful without some appeal to sentiment ? It is a call not 
to sense, nor to the soul but to the heart. 


A Transatlantic smack 1 now makes itself unmis- 
takably felt and continues through several extracts. 

1-2. This is fine a grand appeal to us to make our lives 
bigger, greater, more sublime, to put aside the petty and material 
interests which shut in our souls and let forth our big and generous 
impulses. It is an appeal to us to live, and not merely to exist, 
and this appeal culminates in a grand climax in the last two lines. 

The superb luxuriance of the style in 1-21 has as 
characteristic a savour as the looser idioms of 1-22. 
Nor are the contents less significant in their rendering 
of one powerful trend of that western world. 

1-21. It successfully catches the rythm of the human heart 
beat the fundamental rythm of all music and of all poetry. 
The swing catches the heart and the emotions, the thought leads 
the mind on to inspiration. The more you read the verse the 
more the rythm and the theme, the two together, catch your 
soul and carry you completely in tune on to the end ; and you 
wish there were more. 

Even the first reading takes you into its cadence and its spirit. 
It wears better with each succeeding reading that you really 
have concentrated on. 

It is an inspirational bit, yet full-blooded and perfectly con- 
versant with life as it is in its sorrows, despairs, and its fulfilled 
and unfulfilled hopes. More than much poetry it has a taste of 
life life as Shakespeare knew it and Hugo, not as Shelley or 
Keats, or a shallow modern novelist know it. In it is a punch, 
an energy and the vigour of red-blooded manhood tinged with a 
deep tone of " God's in his heaven, all's right with the world " 
if you do your own fighting to live your own full, rich life. 

It surely has inspired something here ! 

1-22. Worldly ideals and philosophy run through it. It is 
modern, speaking of self-expression. // says to self -express a 
full emotional and a rich intellectual life. 

It is clear in parts at first. Subsequent readings show subtlety 
as well as clarity. 

Not poetic in comparison with the Romantic age, it being 
too serious and too of the soil and the streetcar for the average 

1 I cannot plume myself that my literary acumen alone is responsible 
for this perception. I have other evidence. 

POEM I 29 

We go back now to English speech-rhythm, but 
the crescendo of praise does not flag. 

1*3. After reading over this passage for the first time, I received 
one impression " How much every one of those words means, 
ordinary words they are, too, such as I myself probably use 
every day * every rift loaded with ore* ". And then I read it 
again. And this impression deepened, and others arose. The 
vividness of the thing ! What a sure hand guided this pen . . . 
how strong it is ! And what a gradual rise to the glorious lifting 
of the veil in the last line but one " we should count time by heart- 
throbs ". The voice has risen for an instant to passion. And 
then it dies away, firm and masterful to the end. 

From this high peak of admiration to the complete 
union of hearts, with all the appropriate trappings of 
a romantic attachment thrown in, is a mere glissade. 

1-31. Yes, intensely. This is first rate. Why? [in order]. 

(1) Curious way it suggests immediately great intimacy with 
the author. FRIENDSHIP. A room at night, curtains drawn, 
roaring log fire, chimney corner, author musing, old inns, you 
and him alone. 

One of those rare and inexplicable moments which stand out 
as REAL in a world of phantasms. When your mind seems to 
touch another's, and you realise that far beyond our being 
brothers, we are all ONE person. 

(2) Most loveable nobility [unconscious] to which I immediately 

(3) Artistic reasons 

a. Topping condensation of language. No vapid and 

ineffectual adjectives. Each word contains multi- 

b. Freedom and balance of lines. Like wonderful 


Could the variety of the human garden be better 
displayed, even in the sunlight, than in this pot- 
pourri of academic lucubrations ? 

With Poem I we have been concerned chiefly with 


the problem of the ' message ', the truth and worth 
of the doctrine embodied in the poem. Discussion 
of this general question of the place of ' messages ' 
and doctrines in poetry is postponed until Part III, 
expecially Chapter VIL (The Index may also be 
consulted.) With Poem II we pass to a different 
group of critical difficulties. 

Gone were but the Wijjter, w 
Come were but me Spring, 

I would to a covert 
Where the birds sing. 

Where in the whitethorn 

Singeth a thrush, 
And a robin sings 

In the holly-bush. 

Full of fresh scents 
Are the budding boughs 

Arching high over 
A cool, green house. 

Full of sweet scents, 

And whispering air 
Which sayeth softly : 

" We spread no snare : 

" Here dwell in safety, 

Here dwell alone, 
With a clear stream 

And a mossy stone. 

" Here the sun shineth 

Most shadily ; 
Here is heard an echo 

Of the far sea, 

Though far off it be." 


THE adverse comments upon this poem show some 
interesting uniformities. One particular allegation 
recurs again and again like a refrain. A very wide- 
spread, well-inculcated presupposition may be sus- 
pected behind such a confident general agreement. 

2*1. The writer has only got to find twelve rhyming words to 
express very trivial thoughts so why ' thrush ', * bush ', * boughs ', 
' house '. 

Whole poem silly. 

2- n. It has little merit parts of it are deplorable. 

The first two verses are quite attractive, and the rhyme * thrush ' 
with ' bush ' is almost bearable. When * boughs ' and ' house ' 
come next however, the attempt to enjoy the poem fails. There 
are not only poor rhymes, there is also much poverty of thought, 
and much real silliness in the poem. 

Does this certainty that imperfect rhymes make a 
perfect indictment arise from any real pain they 
inflict upon readers' ears ? Or are the reasons for 
this contempt more subtle ? 

2*12. The first 2 lines are not sense. I laughed at the 
rhyming of thrush and bush ; and boughs and house. Reminds 
one quite pleasantly of the "poetry " one wrote when aged ten. 

Probably this brings us nearer to the true explana- 
tion. Reminders of our own poetic efforts, not only 
at the age of ten but. even in years closer at hand, 
have an inevitable influence on our judgment, a 
useful influence when it keeps within its province, 
but dangerous when it meddles with matters beyond 
it. All but a very few beginners in verse find rhyming 
a great strain upon their verbal ingenuity and atten- 



tion. Success or failure for the neophyte is very 
largely a question of the control of rhymes. More 
often than not the strain of finding rhymes and 
fitting them together has been so intense that nothing 
else has been genuinely attempted. It is probably 
true, even of the best writers, that 

Rimes the rudders are of verses 

By which, like ships, they steer their courses, 

but most people's first voyages, in command, are 
made in vessels that are all rudder, and they fre- 
quently retire from the trade before this stage has 
been passed. An exaggerated respect for rhyming 
ability is the result, and a tendency to great severity 
towards verses in which the poet, if concerned only 
with making his rhymes perfect, could be charged 
with partial unsuccess. That the poet may have had 
other, more difficult and more important, tasks in 
hand is easily overlooked. And that he could possibly 
have intended only a partial rhyme, and have pre- 
ferred it to a full one, is too bewildering a thought to 
be entertained. 

Another strong motive for the avidity with which 
imperfect rhymes are fastened upon is the desire for 
something tangible by which to judge poetic merit. 
Normal sensibilities can decide with considerable 
certainty whether two sounds rhyme perfectly or 
not. The task is nearly as simple as that of a car- 
penter measuring planks. It is a grateful relief to 
pass from the nebulous world of intellectual and 
emotional accordances to definite questions of sensory 
fact. By assuming that the poet intended to rhyme 
perfectly, we get a clear unambiguous test for his 
success or failure. The assumption need not be 
explicit and usually is not, but the temptation to 
entertain it is very comprehensible. 

Details of scansion, opportunities for grammatical 
objection, for allegations of descriptive inaccuracy, 


for charges of logical inconsistency, share this attrac- 
tion. To put the point generally, all those features 
which can be judged without going into the poem, 
all details or aspects that can be scrutinised by the 
mind in its practical, every - hour, non-poetical 
capacity, are so many invitations to make short work 
of the task of critical appraisement. Instead of trying 
the poem on, we content ourselves with a glance at 
its lapels or its buttons. For the details are more 
easily perceived than the ensemble , and technical 
points seem more obtrusive than the point of the 

The following extracts may perhaps be considered 
to illustrate these remarks : 

2-2. I think this is utterly absurd. Sentiment utter rubbish. 
Poet not in love with nature merely fed up with life. Idea of 
peace CAN be made attractive, but this is a wish for a lazy and 
" secure " life rather than a longing for peace. 

Who has ever seen a " green " house, or seen the sun shine 
shadily ? 

Why bring in a line at the end, to upset, what is at its best but 
a jingle of a metre, when the whole thing has been said in the 
preceding line ? 

/> Idea of living with a mossy stone singularly unattractive. 

The sternness of the opening finds its complement 
in a later extract (2-8) ; and some clearly much 
needed elucidations of the ' cool green house' are 
given in 2-6. 

The cavils continue : 

2-21. Green houses not usually cool, though I suppose they 
might be if anyone was foolish enough to erect them under 
arches of budding boughs. 

What does the air mean when it sayeth softly we spread no 
snare. What are we ? 

The charge of descriptive inaccuracy now spreads 
to the robin's song, though ' most shadily ' continues 
to prove a particularly tough morsel to assimilate. 


2' 22. Full of mistakes. Firstly it is nonsense : moreover it 
is trite and not " inspired nonsense ". How can the sun shine 
" most shadily " ? Set out to be natural and fresh and has 
become commonplace and ridiculous. Though no ornithologist, 
do robins sing ? The metre is sing-songy and the rhymes such as 
" boughs " and " house " and " shadily " and " the sea " require 
a lot of imagination. The addition of the 5th line in the last 
stanza though permissible seems uncalled for. 

2-23. First reading produced a feeling of irritation at having 
to read such silly stuff because it was so senseless. One feels 
that the poem is meant to be one of musical simplicity and the 
peace of nature. But in effect it is silly as it is very slight in 
thought and hideously worded. To begin a poem with such a 
line as " Gone were but the Winter " gives the show away. 
Rhymes such as " boughs " and " house " grate on one's ear. 
When you look into it it is hardly sense, how can the sun shine 
shadily ? and who wants to live with a mossy stone anyway ? 

2' 24. Trivial. Commonplace idea. Ambiguity of the idea of 
budding boughs arched over a cool green house. 

In the last verse the phrase " Here the sun shineth most 
shadily " is stupid and also ambiguous in meaning. The sun 
cannot shine shadily, it can only cause shadows to be cast ; besides, 
the term " most shadily " might mean that the sun is ashamed 
of shining when perhaps it had no right to do so. 

Grammar has its turn. 

2-25. A very light set of verses of very little merit. The 
rhyming is poor e.g. thrush and bush, boughs and house and 
the construction of the whole thing is extremely weak. 

The verbs are used badly e.g. " Singeth a thrush ", but " Sings 
a robin ", and the grammar of verse 4 is quite obscure ; if, as 
apparently is the case, both the scents and the air say, " We 
spread no snare " obviously " sayeth " is incorrect. How, 
again, can the sun shine shadily ? Altogether, a very slight, 
futile example. 

The ' message ' question (what the poem says)> also 
a comparatively external consideration, is noticed in 
2*3, which puts forward a devastating view of literary 

2*3. This poem might have been pleasing to the reading public 
a few hundred years ago, but to-day I can see little reason why 
it should be read, except for historical interest. It is simple, almost 

POEM It 37 

childish, without being charming. The riming of " boughs " 
with " house " is distinctly irritating, as is a fifth line on the last 
verse. It is rambling, discursive, and says nothing that matters. 
But there is melody and rhythm, which redeem it slightly. 

Moral qualms similar to those in 2-2 appear in 
2-4 and 2-41.' Such just remarks upon ' make- 
believe ' may seem to owe their application here to 
Mnemonic irrelevance as much as to Stoicism. 

2'4. Communication extraordinarily successful. Experience 
most pleasant and refreshing and consolatory : the last makes 
indulgence seem rather childish and cowardly. Make-believe has 
its after-effect of increasing rather than decreasing present dis- 
content. To make this experience an end in itself is to ignore 
our responsibility to society, etc. etc. and sacrifice the latter 
half of life, while temporarily to indulge is mental " dope." 

Doubtful whether I like it or not owing to an unfortunate 
dislike of the trifling. Pleasure never a strong influence (in 

It seems a pity that this severe critic should be 
throwing away such valuable views. May they help 
and support some other earnest student, such an 
one as the next writer, for example : 

2*41. The passage is obviously intended to possess lyrical 
simplicity. Assonance, rather than strict metre, is used to heighten 
effect of simplicity. I may appreciate the poem better in a lighter 
moment. A more serious subject fits better my serious working 

The assonance suggestion is probably an attempt 
to meet such strictures on the rhymes as we have 
noticed above. 

It is slightly surprising, in view of the subject- 
matter of the poem, that mnemonic irrelevance did 
not have more play. One writer was on his guard. 

2'5 I fear I am not an impartial judge, as the lines inevitably 
associate themselves with a scene and experience which I value. 

Its influence elsewhere in the protocols is so great 
that mere caution hardly explains its absence. More 
probably the explanation is the extreme difficulty so 


many writers found in reading (rendering) it so as 
to yield them any satisfaction. An extremely 
illuminating account of this difficulty is given in 
2-6, a document of capital importance for under- 
standing the reception of this poem. 

2-6. An interesting example of the difference made by reading 
the same poem in different ways. In reading this, one must not 
let the rhythm become too square-cut. If one does, the whole 
thing becomes jerky and amateurish : one accentuates faults of 
scansion, and throws emphasis upon the wrong words. I read 
this three times. The first two times, I gave it four accents or 
three to each line : 

Full^of fre*sh scents, 

Are the budding boughs. 
Arching high 6Wr, 

A co61 green house, 

But this is certainly wrong : it should be 

Full of fresh scents 

^Are the budding boughs, 
Arching high 6ver 

A c6ol green house. 

This is faster, lighter : it goes with a swing. It reminds one of 
Morris* lines for his bed-hangings : 

Rest then and rest 
And think of the best, 

or however they go. Read like this, the poem is a light little 
thing, without indeed much intellectual appeal, but expressing 
certainly the pleasant feeling of joy and peace one feels in the 
spring. Read heavily, the poem would disgrace some boys of 
14 : the scansion is faulty alternating wildly between 4 feet 
and 3 : the rhymes (e.g. thrush and bush) atrocious. 
The sense suffers too : e.g. 

" With a clear stream 
And a m6ssy st6ne. 
(instead of 

" With a cledr stream/* 


is silly : it suggests the poet saying : " Here, you'd better take 
a stream too : yes, and a stone." Again, with the accent thrown 
ff "green" in the yd stanza, one is less likely to be worried by 
thoughts of "greenhouses", or alternatively (which is worse), of 


houses of brick and mortar, painted that blatant shade of bright 
green which is so distressing. The " cool green house " is of 
course the place under the trees. The important points are 
(i) that it is cool (2) that it is like a house. But if one accentuates 
" green," these are just the points which do not stand out. 

How widely renderings of the same poem may 
differ is demonstrated by 2-61, where a reply to the 
earnest student (2-4) is also suggested. 

2-61. In writing these lines the author is carried along by 
a deep passion for real life, as distinct from mere existence. The 
depth of his feeling expresses itself in the breathless, tumultuous 
music of the whole. 

Very detailed analyses of correspondences between 
sound and sense are perhaps always open to sus- 
picion ; but 2-7 is persuasive as well as subtle, and 
2-71 does seem to be recording rather than inventing. 

2-7. This poem is full of the most delicate changes of metre. 
There are two accents in every line, but they are so changed 
about, and the unstressed syllables are so varied in position and 
number, that there are scarcely any two lines alike. 

The vowels are also well arranged. 

" Arching high over 

A cool green house. " 

The sudden transition to the long i sound gives an impression 
of height in the arch, set off by the broader vowels on either side. 

The whispering air is perfectly expressed by the repeated s's 
in verse 4. 

The echo ts wonderfully suggested in the last verse by the quiet 
additional last line, and by the fact that the third line is an exact 
metrical repetition of the first line of the first verse. I like 
" here the sun shineth, most shadily ". It is at once suggestive and 

2-71. The sincerity and spontaneity of this lyric might be 
contrasted with the muddled sentimentality of IV. In its own 
rather tiny way, it is quite exquisite. One feels the delicate 
movement of the rhythm as it changes from the clear fine tone 
of the 3rd and 4th verses to, the gravity and steadiness of the 
last two. The corresponding shift in vowel values might be 
noticed the deepening effect given by the long * a's ' and * o's.' 
The adjectives are chosen with a full regard for their emotive 


value in particular, " mossy stone " which at once produces the 
intended atmosphere of quietness and uninterrupted peace. 

In the last remark a reminiscence of the principles 
of Japanese gardening might be respected. * Its 
own rather tiny way ' supplements the impression. 

With this fine balance and sense of proportion 2-8 
may be contrasted. 

2-8. No thoughts whatever would come to me until I had 
committed these verses to memory. Then I saw that the words 
and the subject were simple enough, but underneath lay some- 
thing which I cannot define. It seems to be unutterable sadness, 
the cry of a sensitive heart, betrayed by someone it trusted. 
(Perhaps Tess felt like this). The kindness and solace in nature 
appears to be emphasized, in contrast to the cunning and the 
strife of men. The sound of the echo of the sea seems to me to 
be necessary to make such a scene complete, as it gives a soothing 
sense of the vastness of nature all round us, that we are not 
alone, that there is someone above us, greater and wiser and stronger 
than we. It reminds me of " The Forsaken Merman ". 

There may in fact have been something of this in 
the poet's mind ; yet, even were it so, we could 
hardly put this reader's divination down to anything 
but accident. 

To step back too far from a poem, to pay too little 
attention to its actual detail, to allow thoughts and 
feelings to wander off into a development of their 
own may be as mistaken a method as the most 
captious selection of details. But 2-7 and 271 will 
show, if it needed showing, that the closest scrutiny 
of details is compatible with the fullest, fairest and 
most discriminating appraisal of the whole. Indeed, 
the two inevitably go together. The sovereign 
formula in all reading is that we must pass to judg- 
ment of details from judgment of the whole. It is 
always rash and usually disastrous to reverse the 

The following description of this poet's work by 
the late Sir Walter Raleigh will be of interest : ' Full 


of that beautiful redundance and that varied re- 
iteration which are natural to all strong feeling and 
all spontaneous melody . . . the expression rising 
unsought, with incessant recurrence to the words or 
phrases given at first, with a delicate sense of pattern 
which prescribes the changes in the cadence.' 

At the round earth's imagined corners blow 

Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise 

From death, you numberless infinities 

Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ; 

All whom the flood did, and lire shall o'erthrow, 

All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies, 

Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes 

Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe. 

But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ; 

For, if above all these my sins abound, 

'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace, 

When we are there. Here on this lowly ground, 

Teach me how to repent, for that's as good 

As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood. 


BETWEEN the bare apprehension of the literal sense 
of a passage and the full comprehension of all its 
meanings in every kind, a number of half-way houses 
intervene. To ascertain, even roughly, where failure 
has occurred is, in many cases, beyond our power. 
Innumerable cat and mouse engagements between 
some investigator of the acumen and pertinacity of 
Freud and a string of hapless * patients ' would be 
needed to make plain even the outlines of the process 
that we so glibly call ' grasping or realising a mean- 
ing '. That the final stages are very sudden and 
surprising in their effects is nearly all that is known 
about it. 

The failures to grasp the meaning which are the 
impressive feature of our third set of protocols are, 
therefore, not easy to range in order. Inability to 
construe may have countless causes. Distractions, 
preconceptions, inhibitions of all kinds have their 
part, and putting our finger on the obstructing item 
is always largely guesswork. The assumption, how- 
ever, that stupidity is not a simple quality, such as 
weight or impenetrability were once thought to be, 
but an effect of complex inhibitions is a long stride 
in a hopeful direction. The most leaden-witted 
blockhead thereby becomes an object of interest. 

Hazardous though this guesswork be, some of the 
writers supply hints which are too tempting not to be 
followed up. 

3 i. I confess immediately that I can't make out what all the 
shouting is about. The poem is completely confusing. The 



numerous pronouns and adverbs mix up the thought, if indeed 
there is one definite thought throughout. 

/ don't like Shakespearean sonnets , I mean that form, as a rule, 
so it ts particularly annoying to have " good " and " blood " rime. 
The first two lines are vigorous and imaginative, but the list of 
oppressions of God, Man, and Nature is a huge mental obstacle in 
reading this sonnet. But the confusion in thought has failed to 
establish, in the reader, communication, and even comprehension. 

The prejudice against the alleged Shakespearean 
form, or rather against the couplet as a close, is 
hardly sufficient as an explanation, though his over- 
looking the form of the octave argues some strength 
in it. His pounce on the rhymes was at most a slight 
distraction. A better hint comes from his use of the 
word ' oppressions '. The parti pris that this suggests 
is indicated more clearly in 3-11 and may very 
possibly be responsible for a considerable proportion 
of the failures. 

3*1 1. I can connect this stanza with nothing which has or 
does appeal to me. And where is " there " ? There is or can be 
no condition as to whether any sin whatever will " abound " over 
the fearful damage which war, dearth, chance, age and all the 
other tyrannies may have inflicted upon the soul. A man who 
sins repents : but what cause has that man to repent, who is the 
victim of those scourges here enumerated ? 

I suppose, really, I do not understand the lines, and certainly 
wish they had some context, some ' co-ordinates ' which might 
furnish an invaluable clue. 

A doctrinal grudge is clearly apparent here however 
little luck the writer may have had in making his 
objection precise. And we shall probably not be 
wrong in tracing his misreading to his grudge, rather 
than the other way about. Something more than a 
surprising unfamiliarity with the elements of the 
Christian religion seems to be needed to explain the 
query " Where is ' there ' ? " As a speculation, no 
more, a paralysing influence from an anti-religious 
reaction seems a permissible hypothesis. That its 
victim was unaware of this seems to be indicated by 


his desire for a context. The odd failure to recognise 
the sonnet form is found again in 3.15. 

The localisation of * there ' baffles more apprecia- 
tive readers. 

3*12. The first four lines of the extract are impressive. The 
" round earth's imagined corners " is a pretty conceit and appeals 
by its apparent contradiction, while " numberless infinities " 
conveys very well, the idea of the immensity of life's history. 
Lines 5-8 lapse into a matter of fact, cold-blooded, catalogue of 
the various possible ways of meeting a violent end. The sixth 
line is particularly irksome. The rest of the poem is not too 
coherent. The phrase " When we are there " is extremely 
mystifying, and " that's as good " hardly fits in with solemn, 
religious tone of the piece. 

This perhaps tells against our hypothesis of an 
anti-religious prejudice. None the less the descrip- 
tion of the * catalogue ' as ' cold-blooded ', the in- 
ability to realise it, almost amounting to a refusal, 
and the demand for the intimate, colloquial ' that's 
as good ' to be replaced by some less actual and im- 
mediate phraseology are suggestive. Among ideas 
that the mind might be loath to come too near to, 
that of the Judgment may well claim a place. 

Some slight corroboration may perhaps be seem in 
the easy patronage which another writer extends. 

3' 13. The sudden change from the fine tang of the first lines 
to the simplicity of the last is effective, but the long strings of 
monosyllables are ugly, and the fifth line is inexcusable while 
the sense is not altogether clear. It is difficult to share the poet's 
attitude, because although he is evidently sincere, his technique 
is bad. The lines do, however, in spite of this express the simple 
faith of a very simple man. 

Contempt is a well-recognised defensive reaction. 

This ' unconscious fright ' hypothesis must not 
be overworked however. Two extracts in which 
the distaste for the doctrine present is avowed will 
round the matter off. The second is more remark- 
able as an astonishing example of the power of stock 


3 14. A poem of this kind needs perfection. If not, enumera- 
tions as " war, dearth, age . . ." cannot but bore. Gloomy 
poems must express deep thoughts or give a harmonious feeling 
of melancholy not only a feeling of fear and discomfort else they 
are a failure. 

3i5. Mouthfuls of words. Has no appeal whatsoever. Make 
a good hymn in fact, that's the way the metre goes. 

Too religious for one who doesn't believe in repenting that way. 

That a stock response, elicited merely by the 
religious subject-matter, should be able to make a 
sonnet sound like a hymn is a fact that surely stretches 
our notions of the mind's power over matter. 

A nervous reader offers a too simple excuse for his 
failure to grasp the meaning. 

3-2. The first effect of this poem is confusion of the mind, 
owing to the clamorous vigour of the first half. The second half 
is quiet and effective and this effect is obtained largely by its 
contrast with the beginning. None the less the first half is 
rather oppressive, such a line as " all whom the flood did and 
fire shall o'erthrow " being superfluous. 

A moral objection to the poet's attitude, which 
appears in 3-3, 3-31 and 3-32, may be allowed more 
occulting power. 

3-3. The first line is stimulating " the round earth's imagined 
corners "is associated in my mind with some great poem does 
the idea come from somewhere in Paradise Lost ? But the 
first 8 lines of the sonnet seem to have nothing to do with 
the last 6 the only connection being between the number of 
souls to be resurrected and the number of the writer's sins, which 
seems irrelevant. It is irritating to think of the " numberless 
infinities of souls " being aroused only to be put to sleep again 
while the writer repents he doesn't even tell us anything about 
his sins to make it interesting. I noticed " whose eyes . . . 
shall never taste death's woe " on my third reading and when 
" we are there ", instead of when " I am there." More irritating 
every time I look at it. 

3*31. There is nothing particularly poetic in the passage, it 
doesn't move me as poetry ought to, it lies flat like the speaker. 

3*32. This ought to have a most terrific effect : in one sonnet 
we have compressed the two huge subjects of the Day of Judgment, 


and the Redemption of the world by Christ. But somehow the 
poem does not raise as much emotion as one feels it ought to 
have raised. I think this is because it seems to progress down- 
wards from greater emotion to less. First one has the terror of 
the Judgment Day : then one has what is really a selfish fright 
on the part of the writer, that he personally may be damned. 

But it is a considerable achievement to have dealt with these 
two subjects at all within the narrow limits of one sonnet. 

Having tried unsuccessfully to write sonnets myself, I have a 
perhaps abnormal admiration for sonnet-writers. Had this not 
been so, I think I would in the end have said that this sonnet 
was bad. 

Technical presuppositions, by destroying the move- 
ment of the verse and so precluding the emotional 
links from developing, certainly co-operated in pro- 
ducing miscomprehension and negative judgments. 

3-4. Difficult to * get ' either sound or sense almost in- 
distinguishable from blank verse at first reading sonnet form 
unperceived till second reading. 

Short, sharp, jerky syllables in 

1 . . . war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies, 
Despair, law, chance . . . 

do not at all suit the sonnet form or the majesty which the subject 
calls for in its choice of a mode of expression. Thought-sequence 
obscure, and the condensation in the fifth line of the octet is ugly 
both as regards rhythm and harmony. 

The sharp and jerky way in which he read these 
lines probably prevented him from taking in their 
sense. This poet is perhaps the slowest mover in 
English literature and here the trumpets are still 
blowing right down to * taste death's woe '. The 
* condensation ' complained of is, most likely, only 
his name for ignorance of Christian cosmology. The 
same ignorance helps to frustrate the next writer. 

3-41. Vigorous but obscure, particularly vigorous in the first 
five lines and particularly obscure thereafter. Who is or are 
" you, whose eyes shall behold God, and never taste death's 
woe ". The last two lines lack the forcefulness so desirable at the 
close of a sonnet. The list in lines 6 and 7 is tedious and the 
rhymes are not perfect. 


A reader unacquainted with the rules for attend- 
ance at the Day of Judgment next claims our interest. 

3 '42. The invocation contained in the octet seems to be rather 
out of relation to the sextet, which is presumably the main part 
of the poem. Why invoke all those spirits more than others? 
Merely because the idea of death is in the front of the man's 
mind. The sextet expresses an idea which is not uncommon, 
and does so in a rather unsatisfactory, unconvincing way. 
Although I don't think I like the thing, I find something striking 
and even puzzling about it. 

Sonority in the octet and quietness in the sextet are obviously 
indicated ; and obviously it slows down and stumbles towards 
the end. 

The same expectation that a sonnet should con- 
form to some foreordained movement affected 3-43 

3-43. The first impression I received from this passage was 
the thought " Rather pedestrian verse. Halting rhythm. Some- 
how it lets you down ". And this impression was only deepened 
by further consideration. I felt that the writer had aimed at a 
high mark, but that the arrow had fallen short. He achieves 
loftiness and dignity for the first four lines, but no further. For 
then, I thought, a certain monotony creeps in. There is an 
abundance of monosyllables and of trivial words, whose very 
triviality becomes evident by the failure to heighten them in the 
same manner as he has done in the opening four lines, namely 
by a noble rhythm and a deep, quiet music. 

In the next extract this velleity is exalted to mania. 

3-44. After repeated reading, I can find no other reaction 
except disgust, perhaps because I am very tired as I write this. 
The passage seems to be a rotten sonnet written in a very tempera- 
mental kind of iambic pentameter. Not even by cruel forcing and 
beating the table with my fingers can I find the customary five 
iambic feet to the verse ; the feet are frequently not iambic, and 
there are sometimes four, and even six accented syllables to the 
verse. In structure the passage sounds like the first labors of a 
school boy. Particularly displeasing are verses 5, 6, and 7. Yet 
the idea seems really worth while. 

This is the first time that we have met the 
scansion enthusiast. We shall have more to do 
with his fellows later. 


Inexperience, lack of familiarity (in spite of the 
reference to Milton) with any but very simple verse 
movements is probably behind 3-5 and 3-51. 

3-5. The passage has a miltonic ring, and shows the usual 
miltonic devices (cf. w. 6, 7, where we get a list of human woes 
strung together to give the verses a heavy slow movement). 
Quite an ordinary piece of versification, neither striking nor 

3*51. The first point about this sonnet, which seems most 
obvious is that it could have been written quite, if not more, 
effectively in prose. Rhythm seems to be lacking. 

In contrast 3-6 provides us with a neat little object 

3-6. I like the grand Reveille of the first 6J lines. I appreciate 
the gentle sadness of the last yj, and the contrast, but all the same 
it disappoints me, I prefer feeling martial. The promise and the 
beginning fizzles out. 

I should never bother about the sense ; the sound is enough for me. 

He goes very far, as far perhaps as he can get, by 
the purely sensuous approach. The relation of the 
second part to the first can only be given by the 
sense, and missing the sense he mistakes the feeling 
of the opening. c Martial J is hardly an apt descrip- 
tion. His neglect of the sense is perhaps not un- 
connected with his jejune preference. 

3*7. It is impressive but leaves no very clear impression 
there are no pictures in it. 

The frustrated visualiser is here not a very sym- 
pathetic figure. Those who want pictures in their 
poems must put them in themsleves. There is 
nothing in this sonnet to prevent Stanley Spencer 
from doing with it what he pleases. 

After so many grumblings three tributes from 
readers who seem to have understood the poem may 
come not amiss. That they are not so rich or glowing 
as in the case of some of the other poems may not 
amount to a slight upon this sonnet. It is in the 


nature of some performances that they leave the 
spectator feeling rather helpless. 

3-8. An interesting fragment. ' The round earth's imagined 
corners ' annoying at the first reading but if this is a quotation 
from the Bible everything is all right. 

Contrast good between whole of first and second part. Also 
a most effective change from * all whom war, dearth, age, agues, 
tyrannies, etc. ; and c you whose eyes Shall behold God, and 
never taste death's woe '. Here there is a mixed metaphor and 
it doesn't seem to matter much. The theme of the passage lifts 
one above such a difficulty. There is a certain humour and a 
very human interest about these lines. 

The poetic part of this reader's mind probably 
supplied the * who shall ' before ' never ' which un- 
mixes the metaphor, though his commentator part 
stepped in afterwards to muddle him. 

3-81. Has the power of a trumpet in the first eight lines. Is 
an impassioned outburst, and cannot be read calmly. Note the 
crescendo in the sixth line ending with the shrill ' tyrannies.' 
In the sestet, the voice is lowered, the poet's desire for a revelation 
changes to a sense of humility. 

3-82. If the ' sweet slipping ' movement of rhythm to express 
a chance mood is the characteristic excellence of No. 2 that of 
No. 3 is the marshalling and management of large ideas within 
the restrictions of poetic form. The first 5 lines sweep up in 
increasing intensity, to culminate in the shattering list of 
destructions and then, masterly done, conies the pause, with 
the accent on the first word of the line * But ' and the whok 
thing quietens off to the level pitch of sanity and humour. Of 
these four pieces, this alone has the power and assurance of the 
poet who knows what it is that he has to say, and its value. 

There was rapture of spring in the morning 
When we told our love in the wood. 
For you were the spring in my heart, dear lad, 
And I vowed that my life was good. 

But there's winter now in the evening, 
And lowering clouds overhead, 
There's wailing of wind in the chimney-nook 
And I vow that my life lies dead. 

For the sun may shine on the meadow lands 
And the dog-rose bloom in the lanes, 
But I've only weeds in my garden, lad, 
Wild weeds that are rank with the rains. 

One solace there is for me, sweet but faint, 
As it floats on the wind of the years, 
A whisper that spring is the last true thing 
And that triumph is born of tears. 


IT is sometimes convenient to regard a poem as a 
mental prism, capable of separating the mingled 
stream of its readers into a number of distinguish- 
able types. Some poems the last, for example 
merely scatter or throw back a large proportion of 
the intellectual-moral light that is applied to them. 
Others, of which Poem IV is a notable example, are 
transparent ; and, since they have, as it were, a high 
refractive index, they perform their analytic function 
to perfection. They split up the minds which en- 
counter them into groups whose differences may be 
clearly discerned. And the reasons for these differ- 
ences may sometimes be made out with assurance. 

Here the divergent groups formed are two in 
number, and, apart from some minor complexities 
not at all difficult to explain, the principle of division 
is shown quite clearly. 

4' i. Absolute tripe. 

Frightfully hackneyed in conception. 

" Pretty " suits it best. On a par with the adjective " nice " 
applied as a standard of character. 

It's a sham. Sentimentality recollected in very sentimental 
tranquillity. If the girl's life indeed lay dead she would not write 
like that. Why, she's thoroughly enjoying herself more than 
I am. Not one tear in the whole piece. It's PSEUDO, it 
PRETENDS, its values are worthless. False coin. Low, mimic, 

4*11. A sigh a great sigh, despairing and tremulous. That 
is what these lines seem to mean. The sigh though is put into 
words and these seem to convey to us a sense of some ineffable 
sorrow, too deep for words. Blighted hopes which seemed in 
the spring so rapturous now have sunk into the hopelessness 



the utter hopelessness of the words " And I vow that my life lies 

It is the very fact that the words are so quiet and yet hopeless 
that lends such a poignancy to it. No passionate utterance but 
a stony blank grief. And yet despite this in the last stanza a 
faint trembling hope is put forth and this must be so for " hope 
springs eternal in the human breast ". 

Above all in this piece one feels a keen sense, as it were, of 
some deserted ruins, stark and bare, the wind moaning, the sky 
lowering and a vivid sense of decayed splendour. 

Not too often is the adage so beautifully illustrated. 
One man's meat is another man's poison. 

4*12. An invitation to a debauch which one can hardly claim 
credit for declining. 

4-13. This is a fine poem written with deep, emotional feeling 
and a choice of words that is only possible for the genuine poet. 
The melancholy power of the whole is transformed into some- 
thing greater by the inspiring and courageous thought of the 
last verse. 

The very features which are the worst offence to 
one group are the poem's crowning glory to the other. 
The critical maxim ' When in doubt reflect whether 
the most glaring fault is not the prime virtue, and 
vice versa', could hardly receive a better practical 
recommendation . 

The antiphony continues. Those for whom the 
assurance given above is insufficient to guarantee the 
authenticity of the protocols will certainly accuse me 
of over- reaching myself at this point. But not a 
syllable has been added or changed. 

4 14. This is such poor stuff that it hardly is worth the trouble 
of criticizing. The rhythm is a meaningless jog-trot, which doesn't 
vary or change with any change of feeling. The metaphors are 
taken from the usual hackneyed and most obvious forms of 
Nature, not always even appropriate, as in stanza 3 . Sentimentality 
takes the place of feeling, and falls to the limit of bathos in the 
last verse. It has the true cheap-magazine tone. 

But the next writer is so persuaded to the con- 


trary that he is able to certify the absent one's 

4 15. There is nothing of silly sentimentalism in the lines but 
they show the love of one true heart for another. 

4i6. This piece alone of all the four got me straight away. 
It is very effective indeed obviously sincere and very pleasant 
to read. The theme, though somewhat obvious is one that can 
never be hackneyed, especially when so originally and pleasantly 
treated as in this case. The ending is very good and strong 
which always is a great point. It has a lilt in it which is very 
pleasant when reading provided it is not overdone. 

Such exact correspondence of opposing views is 
strong testimony to the poem's communicative effici- 
ency. It is indeed extraordinarily successful in 
* getting there/ Sometimes when widely different 
views are expressed we receive the impression that, 
through some twist or accident in communication, 
different poems are being judged. But here it is 
evident enough that the same poem (the same primary 
modification of consciousness) has penetrated into 
these different minds. It is at a comparatively late 
stage of the response that the divergence begins. 

Thanks to this, perhaps, some of the most famous 
critical dicta gain an interesting corroboration. The 
identity, or rather the close connection, of content 
with form, for example. I may quote Matthew 
Arnold : " The superior character of truth and 
seriousness, in the matter and substance of the best 
poetry, is inseparable from the superiority of diction 
and movement marking its style and manner. The 
two superiorities are closely related, and in steadfast 
proportion to one another." From both sides of 
the gulf this steadfast proportion between superior- 
ities (and inferiorities) is pointed out with equal 

42. Really first-rate. The technique in particular is very good. 
One notices particularly the alliterations, e.g. " Wild weeds that 
are rank with the rains. " Again ,^ the double rhyme in the last 


line but one is very effective : it suddenly makes the thing more 
cheerful. One also notices the way in which various details are 
symbolical. The " rains " suggest tears, to take only one example. 
In the last line but one, the poet is of course thinking that death 
is after all only the beginning of another life. But it is, of course, 
by the emotion in it that one must judge a poem. The emotion in 
this poem is strong and sincere. 

4-21. Reminds me of Australian Bush ballads. Has little 
meaning and no musical value. A mere jingling rime, in which 
words are chosen carelessly. * Life lies dead ' is nonsense. Too 
many unaccentuated short words ; hence slurring necessary in 
reading. One expects ' trala ', and repetition of last line of 
each verse. 

In cooler, more distant praise, the conventional 
abstract classification of the content matches well 
with the routine description of the form. 

422. Here is a pleasant, melodious lyric, with love interest and 
philosophy. The antithetical effects are well achieved ; the 
repetition of " weeds " in the third verse is an excellent touch, 
as is the internal riming in the third line of the fourth verse. 
The poem has a swing and lilt to it which make it delightful 
reading. It is altogether well constructed and successful. 

The exercise of imaginatively realising the re- 
sponses of the next two readers, pondering them, 
and the poem with them, until each seems the only 
possible response, may be recommended. A few 
Jekyll and Hyde transformations from the one into 
the other and back again, will be found instructive. 

4-23. Few things are more disgusting than cheap emotion 
expressed in easy tears. No. 4 speaks of a " triumph born of 
tears " and apparently wishes to express a long and painful 
struggle. If the triumph, and the tears and the passing years 
are linked together only because at a first glance they seem to 
have a pathetic significance and a vaguely poetical and romantic 
effect (and surely " rapture of spring," " love in the wood/' 
vows, lowering clouds, wailing winds, dog roses and rank weeds 
are the conventional trappings and catchwords of romance). No. 4 
merits nothing but contempt. If the writer were actuated by 
intense feeling surely he was deplorably misguided to choose as 
his medium of expression a regular fluent metre, cant phrases and 
obvious rhymes. The rhymes seem to have a great influence over 


the sense : in line 15 " thing " means exactly nothing but it 
rhymes with spring so there it is. Finally the easy antitheses 
spring and winter, roses and weeds etc. is fatal to any hope of 
real feeling behind the verses, and without sincerity poetry is an 

4*24. The simplicity of this poem contrasts with the empty- 
headedness of 2. Here ordinary words and images are used to 
celebrate the most elemental passion love, and to express faith in 
the comforting philosophy so well known by the last line of Shelley's 
Ode to the West Wind " If Winter comes, can Spring be far 
behind ? " The metaphors are apt, and although not complicated, 
they carry such a train of suggestions as must appeal to the most 
prosaic person. The third verse contains a flood of pathos, 
emphasized by an admirable contrast, and the line " floats on the 
wind of years " reveals that genius for expression which is one 
of the most important characteristics of a great poet (as dis- 
tinguished from a clever versifier). 

It will be seen that what is usually described as a 
' difference in taste ' may have inexhaustible implica- 
tions ; whole orders of moral and intellectual per- 
ceptions and discriminations flash into view or blur 
out and fade as we pass from the view of one writer 
to that of the other. And what crudities must each 
writer not recognise in the other ! We should re- 
member that these sorts of differences are in the 
background always, even e.g., in 4-22. 

But where are we, and where is our personality, 
amid such dizzying kaleidoscopic transformations of 
the moral world ? We may perhaps steady ourselves 
a little with 4-25, which is rather more objective and 
has opinions upon pretence, upon love, and upon 

4*25. Conveys a uniformly artificial impression verse has no 
adequate volume of sound to impart a strong emotion and no 
cadences to express a deep one, such as is pretended to be con- 
veyed. Altogether too jaunty an effect, with a most annoyingly 
regular jig-jigging rhythm. Sentimentality mistaken for the deeper 
passion of love One does not 

1 vow that my life lies dead * 
in quite such a perfunctory way. 


Opinions about the technique of the poem and 
opinions about its goal or final effect here hang 
together with a rare fidelity ; and if it were desired 
to prove, for example, that the way in which the 
rhythm of words is received is not independent of 
the emotional response which their sense excites, 
such evidence as this should not be overlooked. But 
these theoretical developments may be postponed to 
a later page (Part III, Chapter IV). 

One dissentient upon this point demands in- 
clusion ; but the ' subject ' here spoken of is some- 
thing quite remote from the * content/ * matter ' or 
* substance ' which we have been considering. The 
c subject ' here is the content regarded abstractly 
and from a distance. (Part III, Chapter VI, p. 263.) 

4-26. The subject is serious but the treatment childishly and 
forcedly simple and they don't fit in with each other. It has 
degenerated into mere sentimentality, the use of the word " lad " 
in a serious way now sounds out of place and " wild weeds rank 
with the rains " are all right on a rubbish heap but not in 

The appearance of the word c lad ' had other con- 

4*27. Perfect adaptation of rhythm and sound to meaning. 

Why is there such an appeal in the poetry of dejection ? 
Probably the answer is partly in the last two lines and partly in 
the fact that it is an easy experience to get and common to all. 
It is rather like A. E. Housman, but better than most of his , because 
there is less of the morbid despairing of dejection in it, and none of 
the macabre. 

It leaves no final impression of sadness, but of greatness. 

The same rash inference from ' lad ' was re- 
sponsible for 4-26. It is perhaps not unnatural to 
feel some regret that one was not present at some of 
the discussions alluded to. 

4-28. This must be from " A Shropshire Lad " or " Last 
Poems " though I cannot place it exactly. The most pleasing to 
me of the four. Excellent lyrical form a single idea arousing a 


single emotion that rises rapidly to the climax of the last two 
verses. Rhythm so pleasing that I have read and re-read solely 
for that. Pleasing melancholy because it gives one the safe " luxury 
of grief " second-hand. The singing quality and the unexpected 
internal rhyme of the last verse but one are decidedly effective. 
This verse is my particular reason for liking the lyric. It 
expresses with greater skill than I have ever before found an idea 
which I have long held and discussed with many people. 

The attribution to Housman allowed this reader 
to indulge also in the * safe ' luxury of ' correct ' 

To offset one of the best points made in 4-1 the 
opinion of 4-3 may be cited. 

4-3. There is something very real about the atmosphere of these 
lines. Here is a kind of naive rural simplicity, as if the lines 
are actually uttered from the heart of a country maid. Possibly 
this is suggested by the metre, which is to a certain extent 
dactylic. It is difficult to express just how the verses obtain 
their effect, but these lines " find " their reader more easily than 
the other extracts. 

The metrical suggestion does not much illumine 
the problem. Both points are taken further by 4-31. 
It is disconcerting to find him hedging, a tendency 
very little shown in this set of protocols. 

4-31. Turn, turn ti ti Turn titi Turn ti 
Ti turn ti ti turn titi turn 

This makes me feel ribald it seems so silly worse than a 
barrel-organ (which has a beauty of its own). 

Surely sorrow and loneliness are not like this ? All is correct 
spring, love, woods, the lad, morning winter, loneliness, house, 
no lad, evening the desolate " garden of my heart " and the 
proper sentiment of good out of evil etc. at the end. 

Tears can drown triumph Do women feel like this? I don't. 
I doubt of even a kitchenmaid's liking this. 

Perhaps in another mood this would appeal to me, so simple 
and so sad, and yet so brave but I cannot say. 

The personal association, the mnemonic irrelev- 
ance, might be expected to threaten this poem to an 
especial degree. Some writers were on their guard 
against it : 


4'4. I have a special personal association with regard to this 
composition which might pre-dispose me in its favour. My 
judgement however is that it is thoroughly bad. The author 
seems to me to have attempted to communicate a really valuable 
emotion, but he has failed completely. He has however suc- 
ceeded in writing words that may justly be described as both 
sloppy and sentimental. 

The metre employed suggests doggerel and the worst kind of 
limerick. The words themselves are badly chosen and the 
metaphors are conventional and unconvincing. For example the 
use of the word " spring " in verse i and " weeds " in verse 3. 

The final impression is one of Disgust. 

4-41. This to me is excellent. I cannot tell whether from 
the things with which I associate it or from its accurate expression 
and its simplicity. Seasons and sun affect me more than any- 
thing, and in this I can feel the spring, the best season of life and 
nature. It has the perfect imagery so essential to a poem on 

Still more subtle must have been the influence of 
Stock Responses. 

4-5. We have, obviously, here an expression of something the 
writer really felt. The idea that " hope springs eternal in the 
human breast " and is in fact the great attribute of the human 
spirit, is very aptly expressed by means of the simile, or rather 
here, metaphor of spring. One's feelings rush out to endorse 
those last two lines : 

". . . that spring is the last true thing 
And that triumph is born of tears. " 

Spring has always been the favourite theme of poets whose outlook 
is what we ordinarily term ' Romantic '. // ty, with all its 
associations, the physical complement of poetry to the mind of 
man. I am very obscure, I suppose, but a little poem like this 
does do for my feelings, what spring does for flowers and birds 
and fields, after winter with all that it, too, presses upon the 

* One's feelings rush out.' So do comparisons, not 
only with The Shropshire Lad. 

4*51. Nature here used most effectively as an " appui ", in manner 
of Lamartine and of Wordsworth (" Margaret " ?). Love is 
depicted with freshness of a Burns, without his sensuousness . 
Pathos of contrast between weeds in the garden (in her heart) 


and Nature's bloom. Epigrammatic conclusion, of importance. 
Comfort is born of affliction same lesson in Wordsworth. Fine 
musical rythm. Nature beautifully and faithfully depicted. 

And the feelings that rush out may take a course 
that is only partially directed by the poem. 

4-52. * One solace there is for me, sweet but faint.' ' Sweet 
but faint ' this seemed to me to sum up the whole atmosphere, 
to which I should also add the epithet ' delicate '. It is a mingling 
of joy and sorrow, and from this is born an emotion, at once 
sharper, more intense, but sweet and faint still like the caravan 
bells in Hassan. The music seems to rise and fall, like a breath 
of wind. Now strong and flaming, with the memory of love 
present, now sad and gentle with the memory of love past. 
And at the end it seems to rise to triumph, the very triumph 
that the writer was thinking of " born of tears ". 

Whether the next writer is alluding to the heroine 
of the poem or to the author is not made clear. 

4-6. The " sweet but faint solace " floating with foolish 
optimism on metaphorical winds fills me with a sense of superiority 
and contempt. I cannot and will not give any more attention to 
this effeminate weakling. 

His arrogance may contrast, finally, with the 
humility of 4-61. 

4-61. As 

(1) I am only 19. 

(2) I have never been in love. 

(3) I do not know what a dog-rose is. 

(4) I consider that spring has no rapture. 

(5) tne alliteration is bad and unnecessary. 

(6) this symbolism utterly worthless. 

I will declare the whole poem to be sentimental rubbish. 
More detailed criticism would be foolish and futile. One reading 
gave me this opinion. I never hope to read it again. 

Comment here again must be postponed until 
Part III, where the allied problems of Sentimentality 
and Stock Responses can be fully discussed. 

What's this of death, from you who never will die ? 

Think you the wrist that fashioned you in clay, 

The thumb that set the hollow just that way 

In your full throat and lidded the long eye 

So roundly from the forehead, will let lie 

Broken, forgotten, under foot some day 

Your unimpeachable body, and so slay 

The work he most had been remembered by ? 

I tell you this : whatever of dust to dust 

Goes down, whatever of ashes may return 

To its essential self in its own season, 

Loveliness such as yours will not be lost, 

But, cast in bronze upon his very urn, 

Make known him Master, and for what good reason. 


THE mere sense of this poem baffled an unusually 
large number of readers. Of 62 who returned 
protocols, 17 declare themselves bewildered ; 14 
appear to have fathomed it that is to say they have 
followed its thought, made out what it says ; 7 are 
doubtful cases ; and 24, no less, appear not to have 
understood it without themselves knowing that such 
was the case. 

These figures would suggest that the poem really 
is extraordinarily obscure. Yet no one who has 
once made out the sense will easily persuade himself 
that this is so. But, since, at the best, only some 
twenty readers construed it, and the remaining two- 
thirds wittingly or unwittingly failed, it seems im- 
perative to begin by supplying a prose paraphrase 
which will at least bring the central issue into due 
prominence. Here it is : 

" You should not think of death, for you will not 
die. It is inconceivable that God having made you 
so perfect will let you perish, since you are his 
masterpiece. Whatever may perish, your loveliness 
is too great to be lost, since when God dies your 
image will be permanently retained as a memorial 
of his skill as a creator." (' You ', it may be added, 
being a human being.) 

The strain of believing that this really is the sense 
of a piece written with such aplomb explains the 
bewilderment and the failure to construe which mark 
so many of the protocols. What we think of it as 
sense is, however, not the important point here, but 


rather the general question of the place of the plain 
prose sense, or thought, in poetry. 

No general rule, of course, can be laid down. 
Every case must be judged on its own merits, and 
the particular structure of the poem under judgment 
must be fully taken into account. There are types 
of poetry (Swinburne's Before the Mirror for example) 
where the argument, the interconnection of the 
thought, has very little to do with the proper effect 
of the poem, where the thought may be incoherent 
and confused without harm, for the very simple 
reason that the poet is not using the argument as 
an argument, and so the incoherence may be neg- 
lected. There are other types where the effect of 
the poem may turn upon irrationality, where the 
special feelings which arise from recognising in- 
compatibility and contradiction are essential parts 
of the poem. (Not always mirthful feelings ; they 
may be desperate or sublime. Compare the close 
of Marvell's The Definition of Love.} But this poem 
belongs to neither of these types. Since the hyper- 
bole of this particular beauty as God's memorial is 
worked in twice at the two most salient places of 
emphasis, there can be little doubt that a full com- 
prehension of it is necessary to the reading of the 
poem. This thought is really an essential part of 
the structure, and the poem has to accept whatever 
risks are implied by this fact. The core, or turning- 
point of the poem is in the emotional effects of this 
culminating thought as realised. 

If this is so, the various struggles of the protocol- 
writers with the thought are instructive. First, those 
who knew that they did not understand may be 

5-1. No appeal to me. Failure of communication, as after the 
2Oth reading the nature of the addressee was still obscure. 

5*12. I don't understand whether the poet is addressing a 
woman, or a statue. 

POEM V 65 

The interesting assumption that the * unimpeach- 
able body ' must be a woman's, not a man's, may be 
noted in passing. It frequently reappears. 

5-13. I find the poem unintelligible as it stands. Is it a living 
woman or a statue ? / cannot reconcile the last two lines. A title 
would possibly have saved the situation. The expression is 
otherwise curiously excellent. The subject is viewed as by a 
painter or sculptor. The thought compact and forcible, somewhat 
suggestive of Browning. 

How the thought, though unintelligible, can be 
recognised as compact and forcible is rather a 
mystery. Probably the writer meant that the 
expression sounds as though this were so, which is 
a true and important observation indicating that the 
sense here is not irrelevant to the full reading of the 
poem. Actually, as some readers will point out, 
compactness is hardly a character of this sonnet. 

The same willingness to accept the envelope in 
place of the contents is shown again and again. 

5-14. I found the poet's idea difficult even impossible to grasp. 
Was the " wrist that fashioned " the wrist of God, or merely of 
a human sculptor ? It is hard to reconcile the " clay " and the 
" thumb that set the hollow ", of the first few lines, with the 
" cast in bronze upon his very urn " of the last lines. The sonnet, 
however, is finely constructed. In reading it, the voice gradually 
swells throughout the octave, and sinks to the close. The thought 
is evidently a splendid one, but it is obscurely expressed, and the 
sonnet fails in its object. 

The thought evidently ought to be a splendid one, 
if it is to accord with the manner of the sonnet ; this 
is the reflection that dominated many judgments. 
The readers' pathetic distrust of their own power to 
construe, to penetrate through to the content, their 
inability to work out and grasp the splendid thought, 
is a point that educators will recognise as crucial. 

But not all those who approved the thought with- 
out mastering it were wooed thereto by the glamour 
of the expression. 



5-15. What does " cast in bronze upon his very urn " mean ? 
The phrase seems unfortunate, bringing one to a sharp stop, 
seeking the meaning. A good point (for immortality}, well worked 
out and well put : but is the expression very high ? " What's 
this of death " is not very felicitous, tho' perhaps a striking 
opening. " I tell you this " gives a very * prosy ' impression. 
On the other hand the whole idea is well communicated by the 
poem, which leaves a sense of satisfaction and completeness, 
perhaps mostly on account of the last two lines, puzzling as is 
the " urn " phrase mentioned above. I always feel attracted to 
religious poetry, and anxious to get the best out of it. 

The search for the meaning did not go very far. 
It would be interesting to know what exactly ' the 
whole idea ' was for this reader, and how the argu- 
ment for immortality runs, and for what kind of 
immortality. Other writers will later shed some 
more light upon all this. Whatever it was, it probably 
had a great deal to do with the popularity of the 

But the confident air of the sonnet, by creating a 
very favourable ' atmosphere of approach ', as text- 
books of salesmanship say, was also influential. 

5'i6. Pm sure this is a good sonnet, but it takes a lot of getting 
at. / like the rhythm, and the words please me immensely, but in 
spite of many readings I have not yet arrived at its precise 
meaning. Obviously the lady will die, physically, but whether 
her loveliness is to be preserved in the minds of others or actually 
in bronze is more than I can fathom. The octave points to the 
latter, but the sestet seems to confuse the issue. 

Both appeals, the superficial rhythm and the ' idea ', 
may be seen combined. 

5-17. I am not quite sure whether the person addressed is the 
most famous statue of a great sculptor, or a beautiful human 
being. The communication is not quite clear. 

But I like the poem very much. It expresses an idea, with 
which I heartily agree, but which is, perhaps, not new, in a very 
satisfactory way. It has some body to it. 

The form I also like. The words and the rhythm are very good. 
I cannot tell quite how it should be read. 

POEM V 67 

Such shivering on the brink of understanding, 
such coy reluctance to plunge into the depths of 
ideas which, if liked so much, should surely prove 
more attractive, is very suspicious. In some of these 
surface-gazers, general or constitutional triviality and 
lack of enterprise may be explanation enough. But 
Narcissism and an intellectual timidity or inhibition 
based on a sense that * things will not bear looking 
into and are best left alone ' are often co-operating 

Some of the bewildered brought objections to 
parts of the sense. The next writer must find 
Genesis ii. 21 very risible, but he puts his finger 
upon a difficulty in the poem that few commented 
upon, the shift from the immortality of the individual 
suggested by the opening to the mere eternity of 
beauty later on. 

5*18. I don't like the general atmosphere of the poem. I 
really don't understand it. Is the " Master " God ? 

If so it is ludicrous to imagine him thumbing a hollow in some- 
body's throat. If the " Master " is a sculptor, someday he will 
have to " let lie, broken, forgotten, underfoot " the unimpeachable 
body even if the " loveliness " lives. The poem presumably 
an extract seems to contradict itself and is irritating. 

The failure to recognise a sonnet we have met 
before and shall meet again. 

More curious are those many instances in which 
the reader is unaware that his interpretation does not 
exhaust the possibilities. 

5-2. Quite an ingenious way of saying that the artist has made 
a cast of a beautiful woman. The opening is good the working 
up to the climax, too, sustained by the questions. 

The " I tell you this " almost necessary to recover one's 
breath but so unnecessary otherwise. Ending very weak. 

I like the way he expresses the moulding " so roundly from 
the forehead ". But the wrist and thumb idea is dropped care- 
lessly, although the sense is never obscure. 

Words well chosen, and rhythm carries the sense along with it. 


5*21. I do not like this sonnet; it has no deep thought for 
common sense tells us that a statue will not die. 

Read with this sense the poem did not meet with 
much favour, though some of the objections made to 
it seem hardly less arbitrary than the reading. 

5-22. This gives the impression that it was written as an 
exercise and does not suggest genuine or deep emotion. The 
feeling is not strong enough to carry the reader along with it 
and so he notices that the ' body ' is held up and that ' he ' is created 
from a wrist and thumb. It all seems rather a waste of courtly 
and artificial compliments such as ' unimpeachable ' and ' loveli- 
ness such as yours ' on stocks and stones, while the second half of 
the last line is almost enough to damn the whole piece. 

But most readers did not attempt so close a grip 
upon the meaning of the poem. A more general 
response to a traditional theme contented them. 

5-3. The thought in this sonnet is noble and well expressed, 
the theme being that Beauty will never die. From beginning to 
end the thought is clear and the form is impeccable. 

This was the most popular theme, but others 
sometimes served as well. 

5-31. I like this sonnet very much. Its significance depends 
on the close connection which it presumes between physical 
and spiritual beauty, and this connection is one of the factors 
which make me think it is by Rossetti, since in his ideal world of 
art, the connection always held. I like the triumphant note of 
the second part of the poem. 

These seem to express parts of c the whole idea ' 
mentioned above (5-15). As we might expect other 
handlings of the more popular theme are recalled. 

5-32. Reminds me of Keats' glorious Ode to the Nightingale, 
especially of the verse beginning " Thou wast not born for 
death, ". The thought expressed is one which most of us feel 
at some time in our lives. We feast (our eyes) on some lovely 
object, not necessarily animate, and groan at the idea of the 
dusty road to death engulfing so much loveliness and at length 
we burst out into remonstrance, and, if we have little time to 
spare, we either resign ourselves to the inevitable or console 
ourselves with the philosophy of John Keats. 

POEM V 69 

This poem expresses, at once, a passionate remonstrance and 
an inspiring hope, in verse which, if not polished, is at least 

Such comparisons may have a positive or a nega- 
tive effect. Sometimes the other poetry that is re- 
called assists the reader to make the best he can out 
of the poem that is before him. But equally often 
these recollections, rationally or irrationally, are a 
stumbling-block. This dual possibility recurs when- 
ever a poem seems to (or actually does) treat a stock- 
subject or invite a stock-response. Two readers at 
least, who appear to have grappled more closely with 
this sonnet, are as much hindered by their recollec- 
tions of Keats as the last writer was helped. 

5-33. Keats expressed the message of this poem in much 
simpler and yet quite as effective language when he wrote " A 
thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Its loveliness increases, it will 
never pass into nothingness . . ." To me the poem seems 
grandiloquent rather than grand. The obvious truth of the senti- 
ment expressed seems to be wrapt in unnecessary difficulties and 
the meaning of the last two lines, presuming they have a meaning, 
is quite lost to me. 

5-34. The opposition of the ideas of beauty and death is not 
unusual but the expression in the octet is admirable. I cannot 
understand the last two lines of the sestet and the third line in 
the sestet appears to me to be clumsy. The underlying idea is 
valuable but is not so well expressed as in " A thing of beauty 
is a joy for ever " etc. 

So, too, with the emotional response which follows 
the presentation of the theme. Very different feelings 
are recorded. 

5*35. This poem is a good one because it is a sincere expression 
of the writer's feeling, and this feeling is one of exalted worship. 
Whether the belief is true or false, we rise to something great. 

5-36. I cannot decide definitely about this poem. Its expression 
is simply marvellous, but the thing expressed is to me false 
consolation for which I have no use. I recognise the poem as a 
fine expression of a certain way of looking at things, but it is 
to me an inadequate way, and therefore I do not hesitate to put 


the poem aside. Perhaps it is because I feel the poet is trying 
to argue the point. 

Yet we find other readers, less exigent intellectually, 
who are more responsive : 

5-37. I like both the thoughts and the way they are expressed. 
For a sceptic as I it is one of the few trains of thought that 
carries him towards belief in immortality. Expressed with great 

One wonders what kind of immortality this sceptic 
is persuaded towards, or exactly what comfort the 
next reader desires. Private poems due to Stock 
Responses are almost certainly the explanation in 
both cases. 

5*38. Someone, fearing death, has expressed his doubts to the 
poet and the poet has, in consequence, written a solace. This 
message of comfort sweeps away any cynical belief in " out of sight 
out of mind 9 ' and states that "loveliness will not be lost", but 
will be cast in bronze on an urn in Heaven, will be eternally 
remembered. The thought that " is it likely that God would 
have made you so comely and beautiful just to destroy you ? " 
is not a common one ; it offers comfort to those who have 
their doubts about the next world death does not seem so 
dreadful. The last six lines which form the solace of the poem, 
are said with such calm assurance that the troubled mind 
has its fears allayed, and, as the lines seem to run more 
smoothly, and soothingly to the end, they cause a placidity of 

It is plain that the doctrinal problem, the place and 
importance of beliefs in poetry, is in need of dis- 
cussion. Several writers indeed either state or imply 
a view upon this most difficult general problem. 

5-4. A sonnet expressing a sense of the permanence of beauty. 
Connected with a sense of the immortality behind things even 
human and material, and with a sense of a definite power which 
creates beauty for a given purpose a ' good reason '. The poem 
is interesting from this point of view, though it is not an un- 
familiar thought. It is indeed a thought common to all poets 
and expressed by all of them in some way or another. It is 
both the explanation and the justification of poetry itself as of all 
forms of art. 

POEM V 71 

This writer's interpretation of the last words of 
the sonnet ' and for what good or reason ' is rather 
too bold, but his view of the beliefs supposed to give 
rise to poetry is very common. It is elaborated, with 
an added note of nervous asceticism, in 5-41, where 
some misgivings lest doctrine should too much in- 
trude are also shown. 

5*41. This aesthetic conviction of immortality was most prob- 
ably written by some sculptor or artist poet who could fully 
appreciate the joy of creation. The poet's pleasure in physical 
beauty is very sincere. The note of sensuality which one might 
have expected in such an admirer is entirely absent because the 
poet is thinking rather of the creator's satisfaction in contem- 
plating the thing he has created than of the emotional effect 
beauty has on people. The poet has put himself in God's place, 
or rather he has considered Him as a sculptor whose name can 
only be perpetuated by the creations of His hands. The poet 
has the religion of the artist who sees the beauty and glory of God 
in Nature and in this poem what religious ideas do enter are made 
very subservient to the glorification of the person to whom the 
poem is addressed. 

Troubled by the same doubts as to how far 
doctrine is admissible in poetry, two writers advance 
the ' state of mind ' or * mood ' solution of the diffi- 
culty. If poetry only expresses a ' state of mind ' or 
' mood ', the thoughts presented, it is suggested, need 
not be examined on their own account. This sugges- 
tion perhaps disposes of those who boggle at the 
truth of the thought, but not of those whose objection 
is to its intellectual or emotional incoherence. 

5*42. Here is a hopeful state of mind expressed in verse. It is 
an attractive poem. It seems rather a pity to dissociate the 
opinions expressed in it from the impression made by the verse 
itself. The opinions are a little religious the religion that loveli- 
ness cannot die. If the question must be discussed, I believe 
that people's bodies must die, however perfect they may be 
though loveliness in one form or another always remains in the 
world. On the other hand, mind-loveliness remains as the real 
thing. You must accept the truth of change in your body. 

Verse form quite good. This is not a didactic poem that's 
why it doesn't matter very much about the discussion of the 


opinions in it. I don't think it was definitely meant to teach 
people but just to express a state of mind. 

Probably any mention of anything mentioned in 
religion would make a passage religious for this 

5*43. The attraction to me of this is its extreme definiteness 
and conviction. It may be the expression of a mood only. I think 
it probably is, because a man who could write this, however 
fervently he believed that " loveliness such as yours will not be 
lost " would yet scarcely hold as his real creed that any " body " 
however unimpeachable would be " The work He most had 
been remembered by ". But its being only the expression of a 
mood this doesn't matter because for the moment the mood has 
complete domination : / can find no trace of a pose assumed for 
the writing of the sonnet. The sonnet form is peculiarly felicitous 
because a very definite form is thus used for a very definite idea. 
I think the impression I have received of a slightly careless 
technique is intentional ; so that the reader may visualise a man 
too eager to express his thoughts and emotions to pause over 
the exact words he uses. 

One is tempted to inquire what it was that set this 
writer looking for traces of a pose. A rather sus- 
picious disclaimer. 

The general problem of doctrine in poetry will be 
discussed later ; it is enough here to have noted the 
influence of its attendant difficulties upon judgment 
of this poem. By way of transition to opinions about 
the detail of the language and handling 5-5 may be 

5-5. I feel the rather desperate endeavour of the poet to throw 
the reader into an attitude of belief. To believe in her loveliness 
and immortality is essential to the realisation of the experience. 
I am no more than a spectator. 

Generally, I can believe in 

loveliness such as yours will never die 
but specifically, the loveliness perishes. 

think you the wrist 

that set the hollow just that way 

these are tricks of style not genuine : self-conscious, too, is 
" unimpeachable ". Isn't the finger too evident ? / tell you 

POEM V 73 

this too heavy that the style is not quite genuine I feel from 
the continual change. Here, quite Miltonic weight of statement 
Make known him Master and for what good reason. Here, 
spilling over, without much need 

in its own season 

But what really prevents my belief in the immortality is the 
narrowing, specific, quite miniature picture of immortality 

cast in bronze upon an urn. 
True, God's urn, but concrete and the figure merely decorative. 

This reader clearly followed the thought of the 
poem through to the end. The two examples of 
praise that follow do not make this so apparent ; 
they confine themselves to questions of ' treatment '. 

5-51. I like this : it is not particularly good English or a very 
fine sonnet, but it has a youthful directness about it, a clear 
incisiveness which makes it very attractive. It is, I think, fairly 
obviously, by Rupert Brooke : it has his touch, or the touch of 
his school about it. It is utterly unemotional, being more like 
a description of a picture, or a bust being worked by god the 
sculptor, than a sonnet to a girl he loves. It has the irregularity 
common to nearly all Brooke's sonnets, whether he wrote it or 
not. I like it because it has no veiled or obscure nonsense about 
it : it is direct and striking, but oh how cold ! 

5*52. A strong, Browningesque vein both in substance and 
rhythm. I like " your unimpeachable body ". The poem 
certainly " gets across ". The last line, however, is disturbing 
to the extreme. Ugly and flat and banal. But, I believe, 
intentionally so. It reminds one of 

' Hobbes prints blue, straight he turtle eats. 
Who fished the murex up : 
What porridge had John Keats ? ' 

The poem leaves one with a sense of strength, amounting almost 
to physical brute force ; something rugged, something clean. ' Of 
the earth, earthy '. 

Such studies in manner divorced from matter 
rarely go further than those which show the converse 
bias in the choice of approach. To consider either 
treatment or content exclusively is a means of keeping 
at a distance from the actual poem. Two who, on the 


whole, admired the poem, did attempt to come closer, 
and both note in its obscurity an added relish, though 
on other points they contradict one another. 

5-53. On first reading, without fitting together the whole 
grammatically, meaning and spirit is caught. Bold start : uneven, 
forceful rhythm ; imagery (human, intimate, though so rapid) : 
absence of colour : chiefly Saxon words with bold, unrestrained 
Latin interpolations : all give clarity, vigour, cleanness, virility, etc. 

Absence of least artifice, but natural suggestion of sounds 
"full throat . . . forgotten''. Perfect, unfaltering conviction. 

Thus matter and general effect ultimately is fine. But is whole 
raised or degraded by uneven quality of (a) rhythm, (b) sense ? 

(a) Lines i, 7, 9, 10, 14 all most difficult to render. But 
although marred as verse, it gains a conversational, intimate, 
forceful note. 

(b) Sense obscure on first reading (8, 9-11, 14). But if it lacks 
limpidity, it does, by becoming something of a nut to crack, take on 
a " tang " an enticement. 

But is it artistically better or worse ? Worse easier to 
appreciate, but rather a puzzle than a poem. 

5-54. In the first part of the poem / do not think the description 
of the woman's beauty sufficiently vivid and living to make one 
realise the terrible tragedy of beauty " broken and forgotten " 
which is so simply and masterfully conveyed by the next lines. 
If it were not for the last two lines of the poem one would be 
inclined to take the poem literally and the thought of the poem 
would degenerate into a pathetic defiance of the laws of nature 
giving one nothing but a sense of unrest. The last 2 lines 
I think show that the poet is thinking of beauty as being a high 
ideal which is never lost and which is in itself a revelation of the 
Divine thought. 

The poem is simple in language and this simplicity tends to 
mask the thought any way in the first reading but adds to the effect 
when the poem is more closely studied. 

How far this closer study really carried the writer 
towards a comprehension of the last two lines is a 
point which can, I think, be fairly clearly made out. 
Another, who finds much in the detail to admire, 
also shows us the trouble that this original feature of 
the poem caused him. 

POEM V 75 

5-55. There is a crescendo in this sonnet made more effective 
by the restraint of its language. The first lines with their long 
vowel sounds move slowly and melodiously. In the first four 
lines of the sextet the movement quickens and the passionate 
intensity is admirably rendered by the additional syllables and 
the prevalence of * S ' sounds in it culminates in the quick 
monosyllables ' will not be lost.' Then follow the slower, more 
impressive two last lines to mark the final close. 

The thought is clear enough but for the last two lines, where 
the sense of " his very urn " presumably means " that containing 
the ashes of the dead " and " for what good reason " is not at first 
very clear. The defect of these lines is more apparent in a poem 
which aims at communicating a line of action. 

Throughout the moulded image and the human body are 
present in the thought, the word ' slay ' giving just the trend 
towards the living. 

More hostile though as much at fault over the 
meaning is 5-56. The virtue of a ' definite division * 
in a sonnet is a tenet firmly held by many. Its dis- 
tribution is doubtless to be put to the credit of 
teaching. With a thousand other equally arbitrary 
and misleading snippets of critical dogma it might 
well be exchanged for a little more training in the 
construing of ordinary English. That ' for what 
good reason ' is almost as troublesome as the ' urn ' 
is a fact that should make all members of the teaching 
professions ponder. 

5-56. This is not absolutely commonplace, though the conceit 
has been a favourite one for millemums. The expression is 
Browningian, with forced words to ensure a rime, e.g., slay, a 
most unsuitable word. The metaphor at first suggests a potter 
(in 2nd and 3rd lines), and the abrupt introduction of " in 
your full throat " is disconcerting. " Unimpeachable " is toler- 
able, but it suggests that striving after effect which typifies some 
modern poetry. 

The construction of the sonnet is excellent, as there is a definite 
division. The sestet is not so good as the octave, as there is 
obscurity in the next to last line " Cast in bronze upon his 
very urn." Who does " his " refer to ? Presumably the Master, 
but it is not clear. 

" and for what good reason " is a strikingly prosaic ending. 
One suspects the power of " season " earlier on. 


Just as arbitrary in his conceptions of sonnet form 
is another writer whose capacity to construe is on 
much the same level. 

5-57. The writer seems to be trying to write a sonnet on some 
lofty theme about which, no doubt, he thinks deeply. But 
certainly the result of his effort is not very pleasing. It seems 
as if he is incapable of expressing clearly his thoughts. On 
first reading, the various sentences seem detached and it is 
(at first) rather difficult to see wherein lies the connection between 
the various phrases ; but after a further reading the meaning of 
the first eight lines can be extracted. I consider that a sentence 
of seven lines, relieved only by commas, is rather unwieldy and 
clumsy for a sonnet, and the general impression of the first eight 
lines is that of clumsiness and disunity. The sextet is consider- 
ably worse. Even if one supplies a mark of interrogation after the 
phrase " and for what good reason " one still has to explain the 
significance of the phrase. It seems to have no connection with 
the rest of the sonnet. 

Taking " his very urn " to be a misprint for " this very urn ", 
/ still fail to see the use of the urn. 

I have illustrated at some length these failures to 
construe because of their overwhelming practical 
importance. When such a very humble yet indis- 
pensable part of a reader's equipment is defective we 
need hardly be surprised if more difficult critical 
endeavours meet with ill-success. Practical remedial 
measures are not impossible if the need for them is 
once frankly recognised. And to make this need 
evident I have risked some monotony. However 
much it may be thought that there was ultimately 
nothing in this sonnet to construe, no meaning to 
arrive at and I have admitted the strain put upon 
us by the contrast of its air and its actuality none 
the less a reader ought to be able to tackle it. He 
ought to be given better defensive technique against 
the multifold bamboozlements of the world. He 
need not be as helpless as these extracts show him 
to be. I have not, however, nearly exhausted the 
material that lies before me. But we may pass on to 
other questions. 

POEM V 77 

The sincerity of the poem always a troublesome 
matter, see Part III, Chapter VII occasioned varied 
pronouncements. Some attempted to judge by the 

5-6. Marked by sincerity. The restrained yet passionate utter- 
ance of a lover. Style full of vigour : simple yet forcible language, 
the very opposite of false " poetic diction ". The irregularity of 
the metre emphasises the sincerity and passion, giving the 
impression of emotion trying to break through the control which 
verse imposes : it lays a heavier stress on some words, as in 
line i , and in this way gives more force and reality to the whole. 

But the rhythm of most verse is so closely depend- 
ent upon the rest of the response that this excellent 
test may mislead. Another reader who reached the 
same result (and illustrates again the sonnet-form 
dogma above noticed) incidentally propounds a 
puzzling and interesting question. 

5-61. This sonnet is a very fine one. The break between the 
octet and sestet is very pronounced. The rhythm of the octet 
is faster than that of the sestet and denotes the impetuosity of the 
speaker and his great admiration for the subject of the poem. 
The hyperboles lavished on the subject are however very 
conventional and the worth of the sonnet and its genuineness , 
depends largely on the time it was written. It does not seem false 
however by the rhythm. 

The mere date of a poem cannot by itself settle its 
genuineness, in the sense of its sincerity. All it can 
do is to offer presumptive evidence for or against. A 
poet may very well write an entirely sincere poem in 
the manner of a different age, but on the whole the 
probability is strongly against this. It is only a 
probability, however, though it is enough to make 
knowledge of a poem's date a useful aid to judgment. 
The final decision can only be made through a closer, 
fuller, contact with the poem itself. And only in this 
fullest contact can the rhythm test be applied. The 
last two writers, it will be noticed, disregard the 
thought, paying attention rather to the passion- 


broken and impetuous utterance of the poet. But 
these characters are far more easily mimicked than 
the deeper movements of thought and feeling. Com- 
pared with coherence, incoherence is a ' stunt '. To 
gain order and control is the poet's difficulty ; not 
to express agitation ; and what they praise may not 
be a merit. 

5-7. The whole thing seems somehow laboured. There seems 
to be a conscious striving after effect, after the striking word and 
phrase. " Unimpeachable body " is a bit too far-fetched. There 
is something would-be passionate about the whole thing ; it does 
not ring quite true. 

5*71. I do not think this successful, because the writer is not 
himself convinced in what he is expressing : he is playing with 
an idea, rather than expressing a conviction. 

It is the off-hand manner of the poem which leads me to make 
this criticism : the absence of awe and reverence which should 
co-exist with religious feeling. It is especially noticeable in the 
first two lines of the last six, and in the word " unimpeachable " 
which when used in this way suggests a sneer. 

These suspicions that all was not as it should be, 
that a flashy fa9ade rather than a solid building was 
being erected before them, that a bright thought was 
being aired rather for its supposed originality and 
daring than for what it was, troubled several more 
readers. Only two , however, coupled these suspicions 
with detailed observation of the matter and manner 
of the poem and it is these observations which we 
seek in criticism. 

5 '8. It seems to me that these four poems have been chosen 
because they all play for easily touched off and full-volumed 
responses, and so are in danger of sentimentality and kindred 
vices. This one offers cheap reassurance in what is to most men a 
matter of deep and intimate concern. It opens with Browning's 
brisk no-nonsense-about-me directness and goes on with a 
cocksure movement and hearty alliteration. It contains (along with 
the appropriate " dust to dust ") echoes of all the best people. 
It is full of vacuous resonances (" its essential self in its own 
season ") and the unctuously poetic . 

POEM V 79 

5-81. This is a studied orgasm from a * Shakespeare-R. Brooke ' 
complex, as piece 7 from a * Marvell-Wordsworth-Drinkwater, 
etc., stark -simplicity ' complex. Hollow at first reading, resound- 
ingly hollow at second. A sort of thermos vacuum, ' the very 
thing ' for a dignified picnic in this sort of Two-Seater sonnet. 
The ' Heroic ' Hectoring of line i, the hearty quasi stoical button- 
holing of the unimpeachably-equipped beloved, the magisterial 
finger-wagging of * I tell you this * ! ! Via such conduits magna- 
nimity may soon be laid on as an indispensable, if not obligatory, 
modern convenience. 

Margaret, are you grieving 

Over Goldengrove unleafing ? 

Ah ! as the heart grows older 

It will come to such sights colder 

By and by, nor spare a sigh 

Tho' world of wanwood leafmeal lie ; 

And yet you will weep and know why. 

Now no matter, child, the name. 

Sorrow's springs are the same. 

Nor mouth had, no, nor mind expressed, 

What heart heard of, ghost guess 'd : 

It is the blight man was born for, 

It is Margaret you mourn for. 


BOTH response and opinion here divide with a pleas- 
ing neatness. Furthermore, all stages of the cleavage 
are well shown. If some of the other protocol sets 
have something of the wildness and unexpectedness, 
the untidiness and bizarrity, of industrialised hill- 
country, or the variety of a rich but ill-tended garden, 
this set, on the other hand, has the soothing simplicity 
of a demonstration in elementary geology. 

The incipient crack to pursue the metaphor a 
little way and the forces that provoke it appear 
in 6-1. This writer might, later on, be found on 
either side of the gulf. He is sufficiently susceptible 
and sufficiently impatient to have landed himself 

6-i. Has a decided fascination for me, but it is an irritating 
rather than a satisfactory fascination. I can't be quite sure I 
have grasped the meaning. One reading I really feel I do 
understand it, but at the next reading I am not sure that I am 
not completely on the wrong tack after all. Part of the fascination 
is the balanced alliterative rhythm and rhyme scheme, but at 
the same time that is part of the irritation because I find myself 
attending exclusively to the sound and general feel of the word- 
pattern regardless of the sense. Finally / cannot make up my 
mind whether or not I understand it or whether or not I like it. 

Rather more pertinacity, and perhaps more in- 
telligence, carry 6-12 over to the positive side. He 
shows a prudent awareness of some of the dangers 
of this poetic theme and a due sense of what their 
avoidance implies. 

6-12. I have not had time to " attack " this poem as much as 
I should like to. It conveyed little to me on the first reading, 
F 81 


but now I like it, and think the sentiment as good and genuine 
as that of No. 8 is spurious and false. I think it is a beautiful 
expression of a mood often expressed in poetry that of the poet 
watching a child, and thinking of its future, and I think that, as 
the mood is one that particularly lends itself to false sentiment, 
it is a triumph for a poet to give us a new and impressive 
rendering of it. 

Since so many readers did not succeed in applying 
their intelligence, a paraphrase kindly supplied by 
one writer may be inserted here. It will help more- 
over to bring out an interesting double-reading that 
the seventh line of the poem lends itself to. 

6-13. It is difficult to understand this poem at first. After 
thinking about it a good deal I have come to the conclusion 
that this is the meaning of it an elderly man, experienced in 
such matters, has found a girl grieving at the falling of leaves 
in autumn. 

He shows that she will not longer have the same quick sensitive- 
ness when she is old she will no longer be able to grieve for 
such things (Cf. lines 2-4). Then she will weep, but this time, 
not for such things as the falling leaves in autumn, but because 
she can no longer have such feelings the feelings of youth. 
(Cf. ' And yet you will weep and know why '). Even now in 
weeping at the transience of the things she enjoys in autumn, she 
is really weeping for the transience of all things. She is mourning 
among other things, for the fleetingness of her own youth. 

The other and the preferable reading of the line is 
indicated in 6-2 where an admirable power of detailed 
analysis is displayed. 

6-2. This poem shows great skill and I think it is by far the 
most difficult of the four. The more I read it the more I find 
in it ; I did not really grasp its whole meaning till I had made 
about three attacks on it and even now I am not sure I thoroughly 
understand it. / do not think this is because it is obscure, but 
because it requires a special reading ; the accenting of the seventh 
line is particularly important the accent falls on * will weep ' 
and ' know why '. 

The way the poem is written I admire greatly. I like the 
simple opening and closing couplet, the one answering the other. 
The first six lines begin at a low pitch and then rise at * Ah 1 as 
the heart grows older ', only to fall again in the sixth line. I like 
the even accentuation of the sixth line. Then there is great 


control of vowel music, the more open vowels where the voice 
rises in the third and fourth lines ; the vowel ' i ' introduced in 
* sights ' is made much of in the next line, and a triple rhyme made 
on it. There is a breathing sigh in ' By and by, nor spare a sigh '. 
I like the whole idea of the poem, and I think the last couplet 
is excellent, giving the poem universal application and making 
this specially refer to Margaret. 

That the author of the poem was aware of the 
possible alternative readings of the seventh line is 
shown by an accent-mark he originally placed on 
' will '. 

And yet you will weep and know why. 

This mark I omitted, partly to see what would 
happen, partly to avoid a likely temptation to irre- 
levant discussions. Without it, * will ' may be read 
as giving the future tense, as 6-13 in fact reads it. 
Then the accents may fall on * weep ' and on ' and ' ; 
the sense being that in the future she will know the 
reason for a sorrow that is now only a blind grief. 
When ' will ' is accentuated it ceases to be an 
auxiliary verb and becomes the present tense of the 
verb ' to will '. She persists in weeping and in 
demanding the reason for the falling of the leaves, 
and perhaps also for her grief. The rhythmical 
difference made by the change of sense is immense. 
Both the sense and the movement rejected by the poet 
are very good, however, and doubtless some readers 
will privately retain them. But because the authentic 
version is perhaps better still the hint given by the 
accent-mark ought to be retained. The swing over 
from one reading to another (without perhaps sufficient 
appreciation of the first) is remarked upon in 6-21. 

6'2i. I like this best of all. What looks like preciosity 
" Golden grove unleafing " and " world of wanwood leafmeal 
lie " is really a means of compression. I was puzzled at first 
reading because I took " will " in " and yet you will weep and 
know why " to be future. Wistfulness without sentimentality : 
the pang of transience well conveyed. 


How much the poem conveyed to those who 
admitted it will appear from the next two protocols. 
It will be noticed that few of our chosen poems evoke 
praise of such quality even when most admired. 

6-22. Excellent, the emotions of sorrow and forlornness lose 
nothing in communication ; I have never experienced them more 
poignantly, and could not imagine myself doing so, than in 
reading the poem. Rhyme words are the (intellectually and 
emotionally) important ones both separately and in their pairs. 

Tl^T fi [ very strong associations. 

nor mind expressed } 
ghost guessed J 

Rhythm and " sense " (scientific) inseparable. Contrast lilt of 

" By and by nor spare a sigh " 

" Tho' world of wan wood leafmeal lie." 

The last two lines stick in the throat like real sorrow. 

The praise here of the rhymes is worth noting, for 
our rhymesters, as indeed always happens whenever 
the least opportunity occurs, were not slow to pounce 
upon the opening and the close, though I am not, 
this time, illustrating these antics. 

6-23. Unless really soaked in, would pass unnoticed. Sounds all 
way through. " Margaret " strikes note, colour and sadness. 
" Golden grove unleafing " full, soft. " Tho J world of wanwood 
leafmeal lie " gloriously melancholy (worthy of Keats' " La 
Belle Dame sans Merci"). Last two lines especially rhyme. 
Metre : 7, 9, n, jar unless read most sympathetically : they can 
be made to sound in perfect keeping with rest. Sound, sense, 
rhythm and rhyme really wonderfully interwoven. Freedom of 
words (wanwood leafmeal, unleafing) and the newness of the 
whole : with its strange simplicity, lend distinction, intimacy, 
spontaneity. Not the least particularising detail, therefore its 
appeal is universal : yet subtle strokes like " Golden grove ", 
" Margaret ", remove any suggestion of the " airy nothing ". 
Perfect melancholy, perfect artistry. It has conveyed to me a 
sentiment as completely as very few poems have ever done 


This reader is mistaken in his opening remark. 
Many who by no means ' soaked in ' the poem, yet 
had plenty to say about it. 

Another paraphrase at this point may make the 
poem seem more confusing and so assist us. 

6-3. It took me a long time to find out what was being said, 
and even now I am not sure that my solution is correct. The poem 
reminds me of Browning's remark of one of his poems " When 
I wrote this God and I only knew what it meant, now, God 
only knows/' 

Margaret is grieving over the falling leaves, and she is told 
that there are other sights colder than this, meaning death, which 
when she gets older she will not even sigh for ; yet she will weep 
when she realises that all of us like leaves must die. Her mouth 
and her mind had neither expressed this idea of death which 
she felt at heart in a vague way. Man was born to die, and she 
is mourning for herself. The poem might have been expressed 
far more intelligibly without loss of any charm or impression. 
A great contrast to No. 5 where death is made light of here it is 
regarded dismally. 

6-31. I read this ten times without finding any meaning in it 
and very little attraction. Either I am, or the writer is, more 
than usually idiotic, but I really am quite unable to digest this 
doughy, heavy, obscure, indigestible and unsustaining piece of 
whatever it is meant to be. 

We may remind ourselves here that these are the 
opinions of serious and professed students of English. 

6-32. The thought is worthless, and hopelessly muddled. 
A nonsensical conglomeration of words. Expressed in jerky, 
disconnected phrases, without rhythm. 

Blank bewilderment and helpless inability to com- 
prehend either the sense or the form of the poem 
naturally gave rise to irritation. 

6*33. This is difficult to read and difficult to understand, and 
not worth the effort to understand it. I find it impossible to 
recreate the poet's experience : the poem merely annoys me 
when I try. 


There doesn't seem to be the least vestige of a metrical scheme. 
It is most difficult to scan or to read. Such lines as 

" Nor mouth had, no, nor mind expressed 
What heart heard of, ghost guessed " 

are enough to put anybody off from reading it a second time. 
I certainly shouldn't have done except for this test. 

Excuses were suggested : 

6'34. If this is an extract we ought to have more of it to judge 
from. If not, there is probably some biographical information 
needed. I frankly don't understand it. 

And many explanations offered : 

6'35. This, to me, is a jumble of ideas, most badly expressed. 
The poet is apparently sermonising in words, in order that the 
reader shall exercise his ingenuity. The whole thing is cramped 
in thought and expression. It is not surprising that a poet of 
this kind considers himself born for a " blight ". It is very 
annoying being told that * the name ' in the 8th line does not 
matter. It would be so delightful to know. It might be a part 
of a dialogue, in which one lunatic addresses another. I presume 
this is typically modern-born in the little philosophy which I 
can gather. And in the style, the only aim of which seems to 
be to baffle the reader. 

6-36. What does all this mean ? Margaret has apparently been 
jilted and is, very sensibly, finding solace in the autumn tints of 
golden-grove. Whereat the poet tells her, by way of comfort, 
that as she gets older she will get accustomed to sorrow, ' nor 
spare a sigh '. " This has only been a dream. But naturally 
you're feeling it a bit. Never mind, my dear. You'll get over 
it. We all do". 

But I should like to know precisely what is the * blight man 
was born for '. 

Tenderness for Margaret prompted further com- 
plaints : 

637. This is the worst poem I have ever read. It is vague 
and incoherent, and does not appeal to any of my senses, except 
my sense of humor. The parent or whoever it is who is advising 
Margaret is a bitter, hard individual who seems to be trying to 
take away all the hope and happiness of the child. I don't 
think that any really kind person would feel so little sympathy 


for a child's trivial sorrow, and make her unhappy by telling 
her that the worse is yet to come. As for the line 

" Tho' world of wan wood leafmeal lie " 

I have looked up both " wan wood " and " leafmeal " in four 
dictionaries, and I cannot find their meanings. I see no excuse 
for making a poem so vague. 

The ' family-constellation ' may have its part in 
this as another personal situation may have in 6-36. 
Another intrusion of something not easily to be found 
in the poem is made in 6-38 and seems also to voice 
some personal reverberation. 

6-38. An average reader will probably not get anything out of 
this poem it is much too complicated and symbolical. The 
melancholy reproachful voice from a wasted life. It is true with 
exception of the last line but one but not sound. 

The note of conscious superiority rings out clearly 
in many of the protocols as the indignation swells : 

6-4. This seems to me to be a remarkably bad attempt to put 
into poetry a thought that possibly the author imagined was original. 
Namely, that Margaret, though she thinks she is grieving for 
Goldenbrook, is really mourning for herself. The poem appears 
to me to be disconnected and rather pointless ; the few sane 
remarks in it are trite. An extra line seems to have dropped 
into the middle of the poem as it were by mistake ; thus making 
three rhyming lines instead of two as in the rest of the poem. 
Why the line 

" And yet you will weep and know why " 

is there at all I don't know. 

Trite thought, somewhat incoherently and badly expressed. 

The unfortunate readers bray, snort, and bleat, so 
overmastering is their contempt. 

6-41. This is extraordinarily bad poetry, embodying the trite 
philosophy that the world is * a vale of tears '. Winter, as so 
often, reminds the speaker of the desolation and sorrows of life. 
In putting his doggerel together, the poet mixes his verbs and his 
metaphors hopelessly. The grave air of the thing adds to the 
laughableness of it. 

6-42. Pish-posh ! 


6-43. Sentamental. It is very remeniscent of Hardy in 
language and form, but Hardy was not in the least sentamental, 
he plunged in the depths for truth and felt it to be sad. I find 
this poem quite unintelligable and useless. 

* Sentamentality ' was certainly invited by the 
poem, and the invitation was not refused. As so 
often happens the reader's own revulsion at his own 
devious excesses is counted against the poet. 

6-5. The Poet has used his technical perfection to express a 
common human failing to which he is subject, in veiled language ; 
he is ashamed of it and only wishes to be understood by fellow 
sufferers (or cowards). That is that form of egotism which 
allows a person to identify himself with the changes of the 
seasons and to live autumn as well as see it to read Sir Thomas 
Browne, Ibsen and the pro founder Russian pessimists and 
imagine that he is depressed. Usually he realises that it is a form 
of self-satisfaction before he commits suicide for haply he may 
hit upon Aldous Huxley : 

" If, O my Lesbia, I should commit 
Not fornication, dear, but suicide," 


The ' Obscurity Ah ! Browning ' association 
must be very widely and firmly established. It is 
not surprising that here it is accompanied by in- 
ability to apprehend form. 

6-6. The communication of this is bad. Thoughts are packed 
together, half-evolved, and the sentences are consequently ruth- 
lessly clipped. It is a sort of combination of A. S. M. Hutchinson 
and Browning. It is very difficult to untangle the real points. 
I don't think it would lose as much as it would gain by a prose 

I like the ideas implied, except that of the last couplet, which 
denies the existence of disinterestedness. The other ideas are 
worth expressing better than they are here. 

6-61. This is either an imitation of Browning, or Browning in 
one of his worst moments. The thought expressed is a fairly 
simple one, and there does not appear to be any reason why it 
should be expressed in so complicated a manner. We guess the 
general meaning of the sixth line. The other lines are in- 
harmonious, and rather flat. The poet adopts rather a patronising 
attitude towards Margaret, in order to explain a quite elementary 


truth, i.e. that when we weep for the past we are only weeping 
for the death of ourselves. He is earnest and evidently likes his 
idea. He even shows some emotion in the expression of it. 

How near a reader may come to an understanding 
of both aspects of a poem, only to be deprived of it 
by a false expectation of what a poet should do with a 
given subject appears in 67. 

6-7. This is clearly an experiment in sound and in striving 
after effect the sense suffers considerably. The style is jerky, 
like convulsive sobbing, throughout : and suffers from lack of 
clarity. In fact the later part of the piece is so cramped that it 
takes quite a long time to make out the sense, though the meaning 
is there right enough. The ingenious arrangement of Is and 
ws, ms and ss seems rather a misdirection of energy, though 
the result goes far to justify the attempt. This is no mournful 
and majestic dirge ; but a very passable whimper. 

Finally, a long and very subtle analysis of the 
rhythm (giving perhaps a third reading to line seven, 
for 6-21 may have stressed ' and ') will round the 
discussion off, as in such a case justice requires. 

6-8. Love at first sight. Perfect in its sonnet-like di-partite 
valvular structure ; in its ' whole ' and * local ' rhythms ; in its 
emotion content (the poignancy with which it brings home, 
from its objective Pathetic Fallacy, the subjective ' Tragedy ') ; 
and in the intellectual articulation that contrasts with its formal 
economy. A fusion, in the culmination of the last 2 lines, of 
tragic disclosure with a Katharsis that unites the individual to 
the universal fate. 

Thy symmetry on either side the crucial, rhythmically broken, 
central line is admirably managed. Less obvious, qua symmetry, 
is the lilt, and subtly contrasted change in it, as between the 
groups of six lines on either side the lilt-breaker (1. 7). This, it 
seems to me, should be read in two portions : 

And yet you will weep (gap) and know why 

the emphatic words * know why ' receiving strong but long- 
drawn stresses, that on krtow being slightly stronger on an uptake 
and upward inbreathe of pitch, * why ' being on an, equally 
slight, down outbreath of pitch. Nowhere, I think, should the 
speed-tempo be as slow as here. If read like this the element of 
slightly more argumentative disturbance differentiating the last 
half from the first is more likely to be demasked and the 


rhythmical rendering invested with a certain distractedness, which 
expressing itself in lines n and 12 (n especially) disturbs the 
continuity of the rhythmic sighing which characterises all but 
the central line, and never so exquisitely as in 4th, 5th and 6th 
lines of the piece. 

Particularly admirable is the relation of the first and last 
couplets and their manner of functionally framing the inter- 
mediate argument that draws the veil of illusion from ineluctable 
disillusion. They frame the remorselessly remorseful dis- 
closure between two solicitudes a solicitude presaging dis- 
closure that must dispel the enchanting premise of naivety, and a 
solicitude that must make what amend it can for this exquisite 
vandalism , by consolatory merging of the individual in the 
common fate. 

(Of course I don't mistake this for overt dialogue. It is no 
more and no less than meditated dialogue, an imaginary con- 
versation between young mind and old, between old and youthful 

Between the erect and solemn trees 

I will go down upon my knees ; ^ 

I shall not find this day 

So meet a place to pray. 

Haply the beauty of this place 

May work in me an answering grace, ' 

The stillness of the air 

Be echoed in my prayer. 

The worshipping trees arise and run, 
With never a swerve, towards the sun,; 

So may my soul's desire 

Turn to its central fire. 

With single aim they seek the light, 
And scarce a twig in all their height 

Breaks out until the head 

In glory is outspread. 

How strong each pillared trunk ; the bark 
That covers them, how smooth ; and hark, 
The sweet and gentle voice 
With which the leaves rejoice ! 

May a like strength and sweetness fill 
Desire and thought and steadfast will, 
^ When I remember these 
Fair sacramental trees ! 


HERE, as with Poem V, before more essential ques- 
tions can be considered, a complication must first be 
untangled and set aside. It is not, this time, a mis- 
understanding of the sense. Strange to say, hardly 
a reader, here, either complained of obscurity or 
even misread the sense, though one particular aberra- 
tion, concerning the kind of trees described, in- 
veigled some. The relief this lucidity afforded was 
several times commented upon, and the collocation 
of this set of four poems (V-VIII) may be thought to 
have acted rather unfairly as a trap. But this mutual 
influence between poems that are presented together 
is as difficult to calculate as to avoid. 

7 i. This is certainly better than V and VI for one is able to 
understand what the author means, and coming after the first 
two rather appealed to me. It certainly is clearer and more 
easy to understand. The metre is regular and the whole poem 
gives a general impression of quiet orderliness which is certainly 
suited to the theme. The ' atmosphere ' of the poem is that of 
a prayer but it seems to be rather a prosy sort of a prayer. After 
reading it through a few more times I still do not know why 
I must refrain from criticising it favourably, but although I 
think it is much better than the two previous ones, I think there 
seems to be something lacking. 

But first the special complication must be dealt 
with. Before the poem can have judgment passed 
upon it, a particular set of double-action prejudices 
must be got rid of. There is a doctrinal bee to be 
driven out of our bonnets and it is well to realise 
that our opinion of this poem need, and should, have 
nothing to do with, or in any way derive from, or be 



affected by, the buzzing of this bee. Whether we 
have it either in the right-hand side, the traditional 
side, of our critical bonnets, or in the left-hand, the 
advanced side, we should not, on any excuse, allow 
it to influence our decision. 

Here it is as it buzzes on the right. 

7-2. The whole poem pictures a man who with " desire and 
thoughts, and steadfast will " seeks the light ; consciously and 
quietly. It does not help people struggling with incredulity. It 
does not give an answer to any how ? or why ? and that is the 
weak point of it. The form fits the contents to perfection. 

It was not the business of the poet here to help 
such people, or to answer such questions, so this 
charge may fairly be put aside. As to the final 
remark, it can be agreed to by people who take very 
different views upon the character and worth both 
of form and contents. 

Here is the same bee buzzing on the left. 

7-21. I don't like to hear people boast about praying. Alfred 
de Vigny held that to pray is cowardly, and while I don't go as 
far as this, I do think that it is rude to cram religious ecstasies 
down the throat of a sceptical age. 

The violence which such prejudices can do to 
poetry will be remarked. Writing a modest piece of 
verse is hardly cramming religious ecstasies down 
our throats. Some of the less distracting influences 
of the doctrinal bee, as it buzzed in more median 
positions, will be noticed in the sequel. 

Relevant opinion on the poem turned largely upon 
two points : its sincerity, whether the prime shaping 
motive of the poem was what it professes to be ; and 
its expression, whether its third verse, for example, 
does or does not suggest a note of factitiousness that 
throws doubt upon its authenticity. Both points are 
subtle and difficult to decide. As to the first : in- 
sincerity, in the crude and flagrant sense in which a 
man is insincere when he writes with his tongue in 


his cheek, when he consciously and deliberately tries 
to produce effects in his readers which don't happen 
for himself, is a charge which can hardly be brought 
on the strength of a single poem. A whole volume 
of verse may justify it sometimes, though conclusive 
evidence is hard to obtain. Here we could only be 
concerned with a much less damning though, from 
a literary point of view, a more important kind of 
insincerity. The flaw that insinuates itself when a 
writer cannot himself distinguish his own genuine 
promptings from those he would merely like to have, 
or those which he hopes will make a good poem. 
Such failures on his part to achieve complete imagina- 
tive integrity may show themselves in exaggeration, 
in strained expression, in false simplicity, or perhaps 
in the manner of his indebtedness to other poetry. 
We may confine our attention to this second point, 
about expression, since it concerns the evidence, if 
any, as to the fundamental integrity of the shaping 
impulse of the poem. The deeper problems of 
sincerity are discussed in Part III, Chapter VII. 

The continuation of 7-21, clearly a biassed witness, 
will introduce us to the chief complaint. 

7-3. Certainly a very commendable desire, this about " re- 
membering sacramental trees ", but hardly necessary when the 
trees do such remarkable things. 

Is this mysticism, humbug, or the mere raving of a fanatic ? 
To give the writer his due, the verse is smooth and clever, and 
the expression of the fifth admirable. 

The same objection is stated in a more judicial 
manner by 7-31 who is not alone, either, in his other 

7-31. I don't like the poem. The general effect of sweetness 
and calmness is for me quite overbalanced by two internal 
though outstanding blemishes. The first is the predominating 
pathetic fallacies. The trees don't worship, arise, or run. I know 
this sounds Johnsonian criticism but I feel it is too blatant and 
insistent. The other is I object to people going down on their 


knees among some trees. It would be a curious prayer that 
would be offered under the circumstances. Personally I don't 
think any words would be said ; and so why kneel ? 

The problem of the ' pathetic fallacy ' we shall 
meet with again (cf. 10-6 and 12-4). This writer 
shows a clear awareness of the real difficulty about 
it, the question whether the attribution of feelings 
is used as an argument and overworked, a question 
that clearly cannot be divorced from the end to which 
the poem is directed. 

Some of the other objections here have a more 
capricious air. The intrusive, accidental, visual 
image, for example, proved troublesome. 

7-32. When I first read the third verse, a vivid picture came 
into my mind of a forward breaking away with the ball, from a 
loose scrum and " with never a swerve " making straight for the 
line. I didn't try to think of the verse in a ridiculous light but 
this idea occurred to me spontaneously. Do you think it could 
be reckoned as a fault in the poem ? 

The precise image let loose cannot of course be 
counted against the poet ; the tendency towards the 
exaggerated and ludicrous might. 

7-33. I could not help thinking that the poet who could leave 
the third verse as it stands lacks a sense of humour. 

Yet some other readers found in this very ex- 
pression one of the apices of the poem's perfection 
a fact which will not now surprise us. 

7*34. ' If this be not poetry what is ' ? The thoughts behind 
this approach perfection ; the expression of the sentiment is as 
exquisite as the sentiments themselves. " The erect and solemn 
trees " " The worshipping trees arise and run with never a 
swerve towards the sun ", or, again, " Fair sacramental trees " . . . 
What a use of epithet and what a clear picture ! A sunlit avenue 
always inspires me, as little else can, with a sense of the Almighty, 
a feeling of smallness and insignificance. There is something 
holy about a tree, a feeling of superiority, such as only some fine 
cathedral or Westminster Abbey can give. I find my thoughts 
expressed in this. 


7-35. This is a successful poem ; the blend of religious 
experience with nature is forceful and sincere. The imagery of 
such a line as " The worshipping trees arise and run, with 
never a swerve, towards the sun " is profound, impassioned and 

7-36. I think this is a very fine poem indeed. I like the metre, 
and I like the atmosphere of the whole thing. It gives at once 
a grand picture of the forest, and the devotional feeling with 
which the author was imbued by the sight which he depicts. 
It is a fine communication of a fine feeling. The two first lines 
of the third verse perfectly express the meaning by their sudden 
change of rythm. 

7-37. I think the dominant note of this poem is harmony of 
thought and sound and expression and also of the atmosphere 
and the aspirations. This is seen in the third verse where the 
rhythm seems to leap forward to keep pace with the 

" Arise and run, with never a swerve towards the sun." 

It succeeds in giving an impression of dignity and restfulness ; and 
sincerity It pictures not only the thoughts roused by the trees 
but also the trees themselves. 

The rhythm seems to match the march of the thought perfectly. 

But what of the thought that is so perfectly 
matched ? Another writer is not so willing to 
accept ' arise and run ', though he does not show 
that he has considered very closely what the poet 
might be attempting to describe. 

7-38. If the fourth verse is not literally true, the metaphor is 
valueless. If it is true, the trees should not be in a lyric of faith, 
but in a Botanic Garden. 

A Menagerie, perhaps, would have been a still 
more suitable suggestion. 

Too few of the readers attempted to connect the 
difficulty they felt over this line with other points 
in the diction and manner of the poem. A single 
fault, by itself, may always be merely clumsiness. 
To decide whether it is more than this we should 
have to consider with it such things as * so meet a 
place ', ' Haply . . . may work in me ', * central fire ' 


and the words * fill ' and c sacramental ' in the last 
verse. What may be just a blunder, taken by itself, 
becomes evidence of a tendency when it finds echoes. 
The direction of this tendency is sketched by several 
readers who respond to it with more or less hostility. 

7-4. This poem seems to me disappointing ; it would have 
more appeal if it were differently expressed. Almost everywhere 
there is a certain smugness which makes it rather repellent. 
I think this lies in the choice of words * so meet a place to 
pray * ; the second line of the poem too is displeasing, and 
particularly the last verse with its moral hopes, and the last line 
of all where the word * sacramental ' is rather offensive. 

7*41 . He is in a majestic forest, he is upon his knees and 
presumably hidden away between the erect and solemn trees. 
But nevertheless he is much more prominent than the trees. 

The desire expressed in the last verse is laudable. But it 
is much too self-conscious and far-fetched to make me regard it 
as good poetry. 

7*42. Uplift. 

Here is one who makes his reasons for the same 
judgment superabundantly clear. 

7-43. Highly suspicious at first and very cursory reading, after 
momentary marvell-ine elation, due to the verse form, and 
uncomfortably check 'd by a Je ne sais quoi of sententious egoism 
combined with suspicion that a rather stark Grand Manner had 
been both under-studied and over-studied. 

2nd reading uncovered it as quite loathsome a sin against 
the Holy Ghost. 

Here we have the stoical sublime to order as from the appro- 
priate department of a literary stores out-Harroding Harrods, as 
they say or Waring its rue with a Gillow. 

Yet in spite of its horrid * competence ', this mercenary piece 
phrases the image of verse 3 (ist 2 lines) so ludicrously as 
almost to reconcile me, in withering amusement, to its inherent 

Verse 4 also exhibits its facture, wears its craft on its sleeve, 
in spite of itself is discerned to be nastily " forced ", after 
concentration upon it has unveiled (as a general might a War 
Memorial) the smug sententiousness of its parable. 


In Verse 5, Parable is served up cold, as at Sunday Supper 
the dose is almost domestically homiletic 

[' strong trunk = father 
' smooth bark = mother 
and ' leaves ' the pinafored little ones 

an exquisite realisation of the simple banale.] 

The clinically-minded critic must recognise this sort of thing 
for what it is an infallible symptom of the anesthetizing of 
spontaneity and impulse by the gas that breeds above the staid and 
unspontaneous uplift spirit of a Democracy whose Literature has 
been commercialised. 

Here we have the commercialisation of, say, Wordsworth's 
Ode to Duty, etc. etc. of rock-bottom by rock-bun simplicities. 
In this " poem "-er piece Wordsworth is stabbed to the heart 
by a suburban Brutus, in, so to speak, the Senate House of 

* Assuredly ' the Contractor for this Peace-work did not find, 
that day, so meet a subject to exploit. It was not, however, his 
knees that he went down upon, but his SHANKS ! 

A contributory motive for such outbursts is 
indicated by 7 -44. 

7-44. This poet is so prim that we are moved to laugh at 
him, even though we feel that he would be deeply hurt if he 
heard us. 

Favourable opinions were not wanting, indeed 
they made up a majority. The root question, as so 
often, is whether these responses reflect the poem 
itself, or some private poem prompted by the material 
set before the reader and by his own reminiscences. 

7-5. An atmosphere of peace, and deep reverence, which 
transports the reader into another world, more pure and white 
than this. With what magic is the rhythm used to bring out 
first the majesty and awe that is within the speaker's soul and 
then the gradually deepening solace and peace which comes over 
him, as it were radiated down by the green, gaunt figures of 
the trees, rising motionless up into the sky, full of worship. 
Finally after peace, strength and fervent desire enter the soul, 
so that the poem typifies the progress of emotion, of which the 
outcome is action in accordance with the natural response to 
that emotion, whatever it is. Although here, the poem stops 
short of action ; but we feel that it is there, if only in the heart. 


Most of the admirers were more occupied by the 
effect of the poem on their feelings than by the detail 
of the poem itself. 

7-51. I like this poem because it expresses my feelings at times 
when I am out-of-doors alone. God seems much nearer, and 
I feel inclined to pray. I like the thought that the trees are 
worshipping God. In fact the poem shows us that we can find 
a religion in nature. 

That more than a little of the appeal of the poem 
came from sources outside it is shown by the fre- 
quency with which admiration wanders off to linger 
upon other thoughts. 

7-52. Not a forced simplicity but natural and spontaneous. 
The forest trees are described very beautifully showing that the 
poet has clearly felt the sense of stability and grandeur with 
which they impress one. He has well conveyed their stillness 
and sense of purpose which is contrasted with the feeling that one 
is rather aimless and unsettled and must pay homage to something 
which lasts longer than oneself. 

Another admirer (7-56) expressly mentions the 
' everlastingness ' of these trees, so that the praise 
f 7'53> w h i s unlucky in his use of ' mutual ', needs 
careful consideration. 

7-53. Simplicity and unity seem to me the outstanding qualities 
of this poem. There is only one central idea : the bond between 
man and nature in mutual worship : the poet identifies his own 
purpose, prayer, w r ith that of the trees ; and the natural qualities 
of the trees, beauty of form and strength, with traits in his own 
mind. Each verse is confined to this one idea, nothing is admitted 
to suggest any other train of thought to the reader ; and this seems 
to me a very considerable achievement. 

The Cathedral image was, however, a dominant 

7-54. The poet has succeeded in universalizing his desire to 
worship. The * erect and solemn trees ' that rush upward to 
the sun, suggest the long aisle of a great cathedral, its stillness and 
sanctity, and the leaves rejoicing with " sweet and gentle voice " 
fill it with gladness and delight in a way that trebles the evocative 
power of its solemnity. A very lovely poem. 


7*55- Unimportant, as the experience is capable of excitation at 
will by normal people , and probably therefore not very deep-seated : 
cf. the frequent reference to " forest-aisles " in little books on 

This writer seems to be putting his finger on one 
of the most interesting problems of Stock Responses. 
(See Part III, Chapter V.) 

7-56. Simplicity of sheer description especially noticeable after 
two preceding poems which are in the form of direct addresses. 
Perfect communication, but meaning not exhausted at first 
reading by any means. Describes a feeling which is inextricably 
interwoven with the simplicity of the actual verse form. The 
solemnity, grandeur, beauty everlastingness of the trees can only 
be expressed in the simplest language. The value of the trees 
to the writer does not consist in their offering a meet place to 
pray, though the suggestion of the cathedral-like majesty of the 
pillared trunks " bare ruined choirs " haunts the poem. The 
central thought is in " fair sacramental trees ". The spiritual 
value and significance of the different aspects of the trees is the 
main theme, and for this reason the appeal of the poem is direct 
to those who find the sacrament which means most to them in 
Nature. The language cannot be criticised because it is one 
with the poem in perfect expression 

The revival of a set of feelings very ready to be 
revived, and the strict conformity of the poem with 
what many people have been taught to expect from 
' nature-poetry ', undoubtedly explain much of its 
popularity. That it can create enthusiasm without 
being read is proved by the next extract. 

7-57. This is the gem of the four pieces. It creates the solemn 
peaceful reverent atmosphere of a pine wood for us. We recollect 
how often similar thoughts, occasioned by the reverent calm of the 
trees, have arisen in us, as we stand awed by their grandeur and 
majesty. It is calm and beautifully euphonius in sound. 

These ' how smooth ' pine-trees (with leaves) must 
be set beside the vision of one who, just as arbitrarily, 
disliked the poem. He had also a more intentional 
shot to aim at it. 


7-58. A sense of humour spoils the last line of the 3rd verse 
it reminds one (especially to-day) of " chauffage centrale ". 
I suppose the trees are Pines or Cypresses. 

Finally, not to leave an important minority view 
under-represented, we may end as we began. 

7-6. There is something superficial and conventional in the 
rhythm and thought. It is all rather obvious the reaction being 
* Yes of course quite '. But . . . 

S V I *~r I \^S / f I I / 

Softl^/in the dusly, a womarj ^s^ging/to me/; 

Takmgjme back down trie vista of ye^rs,"tlfi I see 

A child sitting ' under the piano, in the boom of the tingling 

And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as 

she sings. 

In spite of myself the insidious mastery of song 
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong 
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside 
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. 

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour 
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour 
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast 
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the 


FEW readers will have difficulty in guessing where 
the division of opinion fell here. In subject, in 
metre, in treatment, in diction, in every isolatable 
character, the poem almost pressingly invites con- 
demnation on the score of gross sentimentality. And 
the invitations were accepted. A few readers, how- 
ever, on all sides of the central mob of opponents 
came to a different decision. We shall begin our 
survey at the heart of the melee and consider these 
others later. 

8-1. If this, on further inspection, should prove not to be 
silly y maudlin, sentimental twaddle, I have missed the point. 
Such it certainly seems to me, and I loathe it. // is a revelling 
in emotion for its own sake, that is nothing short of nauseating. 
Moreover, it's badly done. I object to " cosy ", and " tinkling " 
used of a piano that elsewhere " booms " or is " appasionato " is 
just absurd. If this be poetry, give me prose. 

8-1 1. The general effect upon me of IV is mild. I consider 
it sentimental verse rather than poetry but it doesn't strike me 
as being of the really nauseating type. The emotion described 
might well be sincere as far as it went but to be enthusiastic 
over the poem I should have to be convinced that the poet's 
miseries were worth weeping about or casting down his manhood, 
and I certainly am not convinced. It seems to me to be full 
of " appeals to the gallery ", e.g. " small poised feet " anyhow 
they're certainly not worth weeping about, nor is a hymn in a 
cosy parlour, and to a great number of people a tinkling piano is 
execrating. On further consideration / think it fails to arrive at 
the nauseating stage not because of any redeeming sincerity but 
because it is just too feeble to be anything so definite as nauseating. 

8-12. I think this poem imperfectly nauseating. The triviality 
of the sentiment is equalled only by the utter puerility of the 
versification as in the third line of the first verse. The poet's 



attitude to music is disgusting , and is perfectly summed up in his 
phrase about the " insidious mastery of song ". He regards it 
not as an art, but as an emotional stimulus of a very low kind, 
and the hymn tunes he recalls were probably those of Messrs 
Sanky and Moody, and the more sentimental specimens from 
the Ancient and Modern Hymn Book. Sir H. Hadow once 
divided the main run of concert goers into two classes. Those 
who regarded music as a kind of audible confectionery, and those 
who left their intellects in the cloak room, and went in to have 
their souls shampooed. This man is not content with a shampoo, 
he is positively wallowing in a warm bath of soapy sentiment. 

These will introduce us to some of the minor 

First, as to the sounds emitted by pianos, a point' 
of fact that proved as disastrous to many readers as 
the description of the child's position. 

8-13. Since I have formed my own opinion on the poem, 
I have experimented on one or two friends and each has started 
to grin when we have arrived at the phrase " a child sitting 
under a piano, in the boom of the tinkling strings ". Allowing 
that it may possibly have been a grand and not an upright piano 
that the child was sitting under we have still to satisfy ourselves 
that " tinkling " strings can boom. Another rather unfortunate 
expression is that about the feet of the mother poised. It is 
an uncommon word in poetry and naturally, as it doesn't fit in 
properly, it leads us away from the central idea of the poem. 
All these points, though small in themselves, do not allow us to 
get a good view of the poem as a whole. 

Always, in looking over these protocols, it is 
illuminating to compare the type of comment with 
the closeness of reading evinced. So particular 
attention here may be invited to the fact that 8-13 
has not noticed any difference between ' tingling ' 
and * tinkling ', he has not even observed which word 
is used when. It would be superfluous to expect 
him to have considered whether the closeness of the 
child's ear to the strings might have anything to do 
with the character of the sounds, or whether, when 
the children stand up to sing, a ' tinkling ' would not 


then replace ' the boom of the tingling strings/ l 
Such a thing too as a premeditated contrast between 
' the great black piano ' of the present, obviously a 
grand piano, and the slighter notes of the instrument 
in the ' parlour ' would escape him. 8*1 is at the 
same distance from the poem, the two pianos are one 
piano, any piano, for him. We shall frequently 
notice the influence of this summary, * newspaper ' 
type of reading in what follows. 

The geometry of * under the piano ' is almost as 
distressing as the problem of the sounds to these 
readers, such sticklers for ' accuracy ' do they show 
themselves to be. 

8-14. So many imperfections that one is prevented from judging 
the poem as a whole. After the first two lines, the vision of a 
child sitting under the piano can move nothing but laughter. It 
is odd, too, that tingling strings should boom. 

8-15. I don't see how a child could sit under the piano. He 
could sit under the key board but not under the piano. 

Even when with great acumen he has answered 
his question, he is not satisfied. Does he hesitate to 
enter the ' Underground ' at West Kensington, or 
has he never taken shelter ' under a tree ' ? There 
would appear to be some use after all for technical 
instruction in the modes of metaphor. 

We have already met one music-lover rebuking 
the poet for his misuse of that art. But 8.12 is not 
the only protocolist with severe standards. An 
admirer will demonstrate for us how such irrelev- 
ances can distort our reading. 

8-2. This is the best. Its excellence lies in its securing a 
feeling of ecstacy from a sordid incident^ because it happened in 
the past. Time throws a pleasantly mellow light upon even 
unpleasant events, and it is this light which the poem expresses. 

1 A quite simple experiment will settle these points. Singling' 
of course, is the vibration. The vividity of the poet's memory is 


I may add that the use of " unpoetical " words conforms 
admirably with the " unpoetical " character of the incident. 

P.S. Please do not think, because I consider hymns sordid, 
that I have an inhibition : / merely dislike bad music. I take it 
that the poet didn't really enjoy the experience otherwise he 
wouldn't have said " tinkle " and suchlike words. But he 
enjoyed recollecting the experience. 

It would appear that if the child did enjoy singing 
hymns the poem must be condemned. Alas, there 
is good reason in the poem to think that he did. 

Another writer is more aware of this danger, 
perhaps because his associations are stranger. 

8-21. This poem unfortunately associates itself with jazz, and 
" coal black mammies " thumping the old piano down in Dixie. 
This association condemns it somewhat prematurely. After careful 
study, however, it appears to be worthless. Its appeal is entirely 
sentimental, and the subject is one of the most hackneyed. 
Nearly every popular song deals with the same topic, and the 
thing is not well done. " Piano " as a disyllabic has an unpleasant 
sound. " The heart of me " is also obnoxious. 

From proper attitudes to music (8-12) to correct 
behaviour to performers is but a step. 

8*22. The second verse, which should have been the most 
poignant, is especially uninspiring. And / don't think the lady 
singing at the piano would have been very pleased to hear her efforts 
described as " bursting into clamour ". 

This reader, too, is a long way from having noticed 
what the poem is about. 

With the remark about popular songs (8-21) we 
approach the stock-responses difficulty which more 
than anything else prevented this poem from being 

8-3. One cannot help disliking the evocative use of such phrases 
as ' old .Sunday evenings ', ' cosy parlour ', * vista of years ', etc., 
which are nothing but so many calls to one's loose emotion to 
attach itself to them. 

A great number could not help themselves : 

8-31. This poem suggests that some " Vain inglorious Milton " 
had unhappily been moved by that mawkish sentiment with which 


we so often think of childhood, to commit to verse thoughts that 
lie too shallow for words. These thoughts he expresses in 
phrases culled from The News of the World or others his ethereal 
links with literature. 

That the poet might have a further use for such 
phrases, beyond that which his readers made of 
them, they failed to notice in their uneasy haste 
to withdraw. A haste which other things in the 
protocols (notably in connection with Poem IV) 
make me think suspicious. 

In natural alliance with this nervousness are sundry 
prior demands, preconceptions as to what is proper 
and improper in poetry, and some personal twists and 

8-32. Sentamental. The author has attached an emotion 
about his mother to music which should arouse very different 
emotions. Besides, who would be a wretched, dependent child 
again when he can be a free person ? A particular tune might be 
associated with a particular person, especially if it was a lover, 
but that is different. I don't find this poem at all helpful nor 
does it express any feelings I have ever had or want to have. 

That ' family-constellation ' again ! 

8-33. A good example of feeling without artistry. The man 
evidently means everything he says, but he doesn't know how to 
say it, and he hasn't any idea that hymns in the cosy parlour are 
somehow wrong in poetry. The picture of the time the poet is 
grieving for is vivid and even awakes an answering sorrow, but 
the expression is all wrong ; the continual running over of the 
lines is irritating, and the middle verse is very like a " Pears' 
Annual " sort of print. 

At this point the metrical question here a really 
useful test as to whether the reader has understood 
what the poet is, at least, attempting to do comes 
to the front. For, in fact, unless the reader does 
contrive to master the movement of the poem he will 
hardly discover what its purport is. A general pre- 
conception that lines of verse should not run over 
would be a serious obstacle in this endeavour. 


Though the last writer need not be accused of this, 
here is one who makes his views on metre quite clear. 

8*4. A very vivid piece of prosy poetry if one may call such 
a string of pictures poetry. I find some charm in the thoughts 
but none in the verse or very little. Contrast the last line of each 
verse with Swinburne's " Thou has conquered, oh pale Galilean ; 
the world grows grey at they breath ". The same metre, but what 
a difference of sentiment. I can't really like this. 

That he should misquote his Swinburne altering 
its slow and weary rhythm (read : * has grown grey 
from ') is just what we should expect ! 

All the difficulties of the stock emotional response 
(see Part III, Chapter VI) are paralleled in the stock 
reading of metre. It is as easy to import a con- 
ventional movement into the rhythm as to drag in 
conventional feelings. And it is just as easy to be 
revolted by our own importations in either case. 
Indeed, those who intrude the one commonly add 
the other. 

8-41. After about 3 readings decide / don't like this. It 
makes me angry ... I feel myself responding to it and don't 
like responding. I think / feel hypnotised by the long boomy 
lines. But the noise when I stop myself being hypnotised seems 
disproportionate to what's being said. A lot of emotion is being 
stirred up about nothing much. The writer seems to love feeling 
sobby about his pure spotless childhood and to enjoy thinking of 
himself as a world-worn wretch. There's too much about " insi- 
diousness " and " appassionato " for me. The whole comparison 
between childhood's Sunday evenings and passionate manhood 
etc. is cheap by which I mean (i) It is easy ; (2) It is unfair 
both to childhood and manhood. I expect I am too irritated for 
this criticism to have value. 


If not too lazy would throw the book into the corner. 

Here * the long boomy lines ' join hands neatly 
with the poet's * pure spotless childhood \ Both the 
movement and the material are introduced by the 
reader ; they are not given in the poem, and they 
reflect only the reader's own private attempt at an 


analogous poem constructed on the basis of a remote 
and superficial awareness of this poem's apparent 
subject-matter. ' Insidious ' and ' appassionato ', the 
most evident hints that the poet is not doing, or 
attempting to do, what the reader is expecting, are 
dismissed without consideration. The poet ' as a 
world-worn wretch ' and his ' passionate manhood ' 
of which there is no hint, rather the reverse, in 
the poem, are occupying the reader's attention 

These importations are so frequent and have so 
much influence upon what professes to be critical 
' judgment ' that they merit close attention. It would 
seem that a dense medium of the reader's own poetic 
product ' much embryo, much abortion ' 
surrounds him and intervenes very often to prevent 
communication with the poet. 

How intricate may be the co-operation between 
what may be called * detective ' or ' imaginative 9 
intelligence and susceptibility to the suggestions of 
speech-rhythms (partially concealed, of course, in 
print), is again shown in 8-42. 

8*42. A very dangerous metre to use unless the poetic thought 
is really fine as it is so easy to go thudding away when reading it 
without bothering to see if there is anything beautiful contained 
in it. Here I think it fails because although " Sunday evenings 
at home " and " tinkling pianos " are all right in themselves 
they don't go in that metre. They become hackneyed in the 
extreme. I don't appreciate the pictorial value any more than 
the thought, diction or metre. I don't like the " boom of tingling 
strings ", it isn't right and I don't like " a great black piano 
appassionato ". The poem starts off well and raises one's hopes 
only to be dashed beneath the piano. 

The writer feels the danger of misreading the verse 
form, but through not coming close enough, imagina- 
tively, to * the boom of the tingling strings ' and 
though not working out the contrasts in the poem, 
he is victimised by his imparted rhythm in the end. 
Since the poem does not turn out to be what he 


expected, he does not take the trouble to find out 
what it is. 

The same inability to apprehend the verse-form 
frustrates 8-43. He describes with fair success some 
of the peculiarities of the movement, but an applica- 
tion of external canons (usually fatal) to * cast down ', 
and failure to interpret the salient clue in the move- 
ment of ' the insidious mastery ' prevent him from 
profiting by his observation. Perhaps if someone 
had read the poem to him, giving decent prominence 
to the natural speech rhythm, he would have been 

8-43. The subject matter is appealing ; the picture given in 
the first verse is vivid and original. The metre, however, detracts 
considerably from the poem, and so takes from the charm of the 
thought that the reader scarcely gives the verses a second con- 

In the first verse it is line 3 that spoils the verse which is both 
harmonious and charming if considered without this line. But 
" sitting under the piano " upsets the whole balance of the metre, 
and gives a feeling of banality to what is otherwise an appealing 
and original verse. The metre of the second verse offends less, 
but " the insidious mastery " makes it hard to read and throws the 
rhythm out. In the third verse the pauses in the lines give an 
impression of jerkiness. The curtailing of the number of beats in 
the 2nd line is not compensated for, while the splitting-up of 
" cast down " over two lines is inexcusable. 

This harping on the word * charm ', however, is a 
discouraging indication, and the final remark implies 
preconceptions about metre which are not lightly 

It is significant with this poem, that the further 
away any reading seems to be from the actual imagina- 
tive realisation of its content the more confidently it 
is dismissed. Another musical expert who has also 
prepossessions in favour of metrical ' regularity ' will 
strengthen the evidence on this point. 

8-44. The sentimentality of this poem is perhaps the best 
thing that can be said for it. For in all other respects its values 


are even more negative. The diction is so forced as to appear 
nothing short of ludicrous, and the metre rivals a grasshopper in 

* In spite of myself the insidious mastery of song ' would 
seem to me to make a fair bid for one of the worst lines of poetry 
ever written. The poet is trying to get effects the whole time. 
This is so painfully obvious.' To say something out of the 
common. Well, my dear sir, if * boom of the tingling strings ' 
is the best you can do, / would rather have the actual thing in 
real life, much better expressed by any second-rate saxophonist. 

It is a pity that he did not attempt to discover 
what effects the poet was trying to get. 

While the music in the poem is under examination 
yet another queer interpretation deserves admission. 

8-45. Obviously a poem of homesickness but the man who 
wrote it went to the concert feeling homesick * the great black 
piano appassionato ' as he calls it, probably didn't really awaken 
the feelings of homesickness in his mind. It merely gave him 
an excuse for, and a way of putting his feelings down. But 
with all this the poem doesn't express a particularly good 
state of mind. Written in the heat of emotion it is simply 
sloshy sentiment. The style of the poem, too, seems rather 

A reader who can think the woman is singing 
' softly, in the dusk ' on a concert platform has not 
managed to approach very closely to the poem, and 
his strictures are less binding for that reason. 

It was inevitable that most of those who approved 
the poem should comment upon the perils it escaped. 

8-5. I have not been able to find a moment for this when I 
have not been too tired to trust my judgment. It runs an 
appalling risk of sentimentality and yet seems to have escaped all 
offensiveness : a considerable achievement. It is poignant, but 
not, I think, of very great value. The accent is familiar. D.H.L. ? 

8-51. . . . One is made keenly aware of the strange relationship 
of past and present experience one feels the emotion the poet 
experienced through his identity with and separation from his 
past self. He has succeeded in conveying the acute emotion he 
experienced and he has succeeded in dealing with a situation 
fraught with the danger of sentimentality, without sentimentalism . 
The ideas of Motherhood the past Sunday evenings etc. all 


lend themselves to insincere emotion. In the second verse, it 
seems to me, the poet recognises and dispels that danger. He 
recognises there the difference between his man's outlook and 
his childish outlook and we share his experience of being " betrayed 

back " by "the insidious mastery " I'm not sure if this 

explains how sentimentality is missed. I am convinced it is 
missed by the fact that the poem moves me more as I read it 
more often. An insincere emotion betrays itself by slovenly 
expression if one watches it closely I think. 

The last remark is more a pious hope than a sound 
opinion. Carelessness may accompany the sincerest 
feelings. Perhaps the kind of carelessness will be 
different, but any dogmatism would be hazardous. 
Deft craftsmanship can easily elude this too con- 
venient test. 

8*52. The writer who introduces * old Sunday evenings at 
home ' and * hymns in the cosy parlour ' must be very sure of 
the sincerity of his feelings and his capability to express them 
if he is to avoid cheap sentimentality. Here the writer has 
avoided them and has succeeded in expressing the effect of 
music which calls back memories. The power of music is even 
sufficient though this is being very bold to carry off the weeping. 
Then there is the usual setting of the sentimental, dusk and soft 
singing, a little child ; one hesitates ; I think it is the * great 
black piano ' that decides the day. 

This writer seems less close in his reading than the 
last, but he illustrates the struggle the poem nearly 
always entailed, a struggle that did not always end in 

A very few escaped this conflict and it thus becomes 
difficult to evaluate their acceptance. 

8-6. Sentimental fearfully so but if sentiment must be 
expressed then here it is in its right setting and well done really. 

Honestly I wish more people would throw off their sophistica- 
tion and cynicism and be honest with themselves like the fellow 
in this poem ! 

It should be recognised that * sentimental ' has 
several senses (see Part III, Chapter VI) and does 


not always impute low value. How near this reader 
came to the actual poem must, however, always 
remain undetermined. On the strength of ' honest 
with themselves like the fellow in this poem ', which 
seems to correspond to the analyses of 8-51, I incline 
to accord him the full benefit of the doubt. 

More particulars of the acceptance struggle are 
given in 8-61. 

8-61. Although I feel almost ashamed to say so this poem makes 
the biggest appeal (up to the moment of writing) of all four 
selections. The poem seems to be so eminently sentimental 
(I see no real reason why I, a grown man, should allow myself 
the luxury of tears) and yet the happiness of childhood does 
return at times in this way under the influence of music. There 
seems to be a weakness in the metre in line 3 stanza i. I can't 
make it scan. And in stanza 2, c the tinkling piano our guide ' 
' guide * I don't think a good word. Too obviously used for the 
sake of the rime. 

This reader would have found a justification for 
* guide ' if he had been able to recall, or imagine, the 
hymn-singing described the children's uncertain 
voices rather tentatively following the * tinkling ' 
notes of the piano. In line 3, stanza i, a pause after 
' piano ' for the realisation of the quivering thunder 
of the base notes would have met his difficulty with 

The accusations (cf. 8-31, 8-21, 8-33) of naivety or 
of exploiting conventional responses, together with 
the objections on the ground of inaccuracy, are well 
countered in 8-7. 

8-7. It is difficult to pass judgment on this poem. The 
communication is excellent, and the experience one familiar to 
most people. I suppose this emotional reversion to an ordinary 
incident of one's childhood, and the indulgence in grief for it 
simply because^it is past, is really sentimental. The striking 
thing i>, that the poet [D. H. Lawrence ? or American ?] knows 
quite well that it is so, and does not try to make capital out of the 
sentiment. The simplicity and accuracy with which he records 
his feelings and the justness of the expression , not pitching the 
thing up at all somehow alters the focus ; what might have 


been merely sentimental becomes valuable the strength of the 
underlying feeling becoming apparent through the sincerity and 
truthfulness of the exprsesion. 

Another useful note of analysis is added in 871. 

8-71. Associations make it difficult to judge this poem im- 
partially. The first verse is sentimental, but pleasing ; it is 
curious that the poet too feels sentimentality coming upon him 
1 In spite of myself and he gives way to it entirely. The last 
two lines of the second verse particularly show sentimentality 
a shallow and languishing feeling but yet they convey adequately 
the qualities of the evenings they describe ; thus we can scarcely 
accuse the poet of sentimentality 

The poem is extremely simple, and whether it is itself weak or 
no, it well describes a certain psychological state of mind. The 
poet can convey pictures. The poem I think succeeds in doing 
what it sets out to do. 

Whether the poem is so simple may well be 
doubted on the evidence now before us. 

How much nearer these readers come to the poem 
than those who most abused it may be measured by 
the collocation of 872, where the writer is rather 
describing some other poem floating in his private 
limbo than attempting to discover what the poet is 

8-72. This poem is false. One worships the past in the present, 
for what it is, not for what it was. To ask for the renewal of the 
past is to ask for its destruction. The poet is asking for the 
destruction of what is most dear to him. 

Finally 8-8 may add an observation not elsewhere 
made upon the peculiar quality of the emotion 

8-8. I can't decide about this poem it portrays something, 
which post- Victorians have little sympathy with, and yet there 
is a sense of infinite longing, and the man's weeping is the 
unrestrained soul satisfying crying which we only experience in 

The rhythm emphasises the reflective strain the words are 
sophisticated the result is puzzling. 


This brings us to the end of the first two groups 
of poems. The writers who supply the comments 
on the following five poems belonged to an audience 
of the same type gathered two years later. Only a 
few of the original members remained. The change 
greatly increases the representative character of these 

A Health, a ringing health, unto the king 

Of all our hearts to-day ! But what proud song 

Should follow on the thought, nor do him wrong ? 

Unless the sea were harp, each mirthful string 

Woven of the lightning of the nights of Spring, 

And Dawn the lonely listener, glad and grave 

With colours of the sea-shell and the wave 

In brightening eye and cheek, there is none to sing ! 

Drink to him, as men upon an Alpine peak 

Brim one immortal cup of crimson wine, 

And into it drop one pure cold crust of snow, 

Then hold it up, too rapturously to speak 

And drink to the mountains, line on glittering line, 

Surging away into the sunset-glow. 


I AM privileged to print the following Note from the 
author of Poem IX, written after he had seen some 
of the protocols. 

" The original version was written for a special occasion, which 
left the writer little time for revision. The final edition of the 
poem reads as follows : 


A HEALTH, a ringing health, to the uncrowned king 
Of all our hearts to-day ! But what brave song 
Should follow on the thought, nor do him wrong ? 

Unless, with bird-like body and dusky wing 

Sandra return to his deep woods in Spring, 
And nightingale and sky-lark, all night long, 
Pour their new- wedded notes in a golden throng 

Through her dark throat till dawn, there is none to sing ! 

Pledge him, as men upon an Alpine peak 
Brim one immortal cup of crimson wine, 

And into it drop one pure cold crust of snow, 
Then hold it up, too rapturously to speak 
And drink to the mountains, line on glittering line, 

Surging away into the sunset-glow. 

At the same time the readers of the first version showed an 
incapacity to take in the fact that it was not the king, but the 
king of the hearers' hearts on that occasion, of which the first 
sentence spoke. The absence of the title of the poem deprived 
readers of a clue ; but by no means of every clue if they had 
exercised a little thought. The suggestion that the * mirthful 
strings ' of the harp in question were to be woven of spring 
lightning was, of course, an allusion to the peculiar, flickering, 
and dazzling character of Meredith's wit, and had no relation 
whatever to the cheap ideas of the readers themselves. Un- 
fortunately, in reading poetry too many persons * impute their 
own personalities ' to what they read, and often attack their 
own musical-comedy faults in those whom they fail to under- 
stand. This is a problem for psycho-analysis, not criticism. I 
hope it is unnecessary to say that * Sandra ', in the new version 
does not mean a wife of Botticelli/* 



Two minor chases, each, unluckily, after a Wild 
Goose, complicate this set of protocols. The first 
introduces us to the Royalist Imbroglio. 

9- 1. Prejudice against first line. Nobody worships the King, 
and patriotic verse tends to be insincere. 

The only other objection this writer raised was to 
the awkwardness of ' unto '. The rest was praise. 

9- 1 1. This poem seems to be written in the grand manner. 
To me it seems theatrical, full of sound but little else. One has 
ceased to think of Kings in that particular way, and in consequence 
the poem is without vitality. 

9-1 1 1. The poem suggests an attempt of one of the late Cavalier 
poets led to think this by association of ' the King ' with a 
' ringing health ' drunk by his defeated, though not dejected, sup- 
porters. Impossible to fully criticise this since no modern reader 
in his room can have same feeling as the writer writer probably 
half tipsy, vastly elated by the fact that he was a care-free 
roisterer and not a Puritan. 

The assumptions behind these views upon the 
obsolescence of poems deserve and must receive a 
thorough scrutiny later. 

An extraordinary number of readers were betrayed 
by this first line, and made no attempt to read more 

9-12. The similes are unsuitable. Why, when one drinks to 
the King, presumably in a crowded room, should one think of 
Alpine peaks and crusts of cold snow ? For these reasons I 
think the poem bad. 

Speculation, however, awoke in some, and the 
Wild Goose flies high. 

9-13. After reading the sonnet I do not know who ' the King ' 
is. Does the poet mean God, or an earthly Monarch ? 

9-131. This rapturous ecstacy in the presence of natural 
objects is one of the most obvious forms of self complacency. 
Perhaps the writer has another King for his ' mind ' ; but that 
he should be content to find him in situations which have a smack 
of the romantic musical comedy harps and glittering mountains 
perhaps more suggestive of the Gothic revival shows a man 

POEM IX 121 

who maybe through unconscious protest, probably through 
mere natural blindness ignores all that is interesting and vital in 
life in his worship of God. The expression has all the vigour of 
the Psalms and is an adequate translation of the cold, hard, 
primary-coloured emotion. 

The more popular Stock Response, as such things 
will, had diverse effects. 

9-14. As a staunch royalist and one who loves to sing with all 
his might and main that grand old song " Here's a Health unto 
His Majesty " I had thought after reading the first line to enjoy 
this little poem. But what a disappointment ! One could, I 
suppose, imagine some sense into the imagery of lines 4-8 
inclusive, but the result would be a vain thing, at any rate so far 
as the main idea of the poem is concerned. 

After the Royalist the Republican : 

9-15. An altogether unpleasant effect on me : I could not 
persuade myself I was not reading a poem in the * Observer '. 
" King " associates itself in my mind with Tyranny, an impossible 
subject for poetry. 

Alas, poor Shelley ! 

One confusion not unnaturally breeds another. 

9-16. It starts with a health to the King, which is drunk later 
on an Alpine peak. 

Many who did not go so far as this expressed a 
concern which may be regarded as more properly a 
criticism of the poem : 

9-17. Does the subject, the 'King' justify the rather high- 
flown language ? I want to know more about this personage 
before I accept the poem. 

Hitherto our commentators have been rather 
querulous. Here, unless my leg was being pulled, 
is the real Hero-worshipper. 

9-18. Main effect is a feeling of the size, strength and grandeur 
of the king. A king comparable with a line of mountains, com- 
parable with what that line of mountains represents to moun- 
taineers, a king fit to be addressed by the never ending song 
of the sea, sung to by a * glad and grave ' dawn with the colours 


of the sea-shell in her cheek. This king to be pledged in a cup, 
more precious than gold almost ranks with the gods. Yet he is 
essentially cold and reserved, more remarked for his capability than 
for his humanity , more respected than loved, more like a gaunt 
and "glittering" mountain than a grass covered hill basking in 
the sunshine. I like this poem and the effect of such lines as 

" Brim one immortal cup of crimson wine 
And into it drop one pure cold crust of snow " 

is too marvellous to be described. 

A fine example, towards the end, of c reading into 
the poem '. Those who form an adverse view of the 
merits of the poem will perhaps recognise in the 
praise a faithful summing up of the very points they 
would themselves charge against it as defects. 

It is noteworthy that so many readers (I have by 
no means emptied the basket) should have been 
misled by so simple a trope as ' the king of all our 
hearts ', and hardly less remarkable that they should 
have considered the identity of the actual person 
celebrated in the sonnet so germane to the question 
of its merit. This, however, is a matter to be dis- 
cussed later. (See Appendix A, p. 355.) 

After the Royalist Imbroglio the Drink Problem ! 

9-2. This poem could well have been written by a drunk 
devotee of Mr Rudyard Kipling. It is incorrect to say men 
drink wine on Alpine peaks, even though it be in immortal 
cups. No one will be sufficiently foolish to mix snow with 
their wine. 

I regret that, as a Member of the Alpine Club, I 
have to declare that this critic is too positive in his 
assertions. The proper inference, if one must go 
into such matters, would seem to be either that this 
peak has an uncommonly easy and quick descent, or 
that the climbers, in view of the date, were the Signori 

9-21. The picture of the mountaineers rapturously holding up 
frozen wine seems silly to me, and I react with annoyance. 
Why should they drop snow into their wine? They would be 
quite cold enough already, upon an Alpine peak. 

POEM IX 123 

9'2i. To what are these bibulous gentlemen drinking ? Firstly 
to a king ; then to the mountains, line on glittering line. Above 
all it is irritating to read a poet who doesn't even know how to 
drink red wine ; a pure cold crust of snow would never be put 
into a red wine by a connoisseur. 

The writers evidently felt some difficulty in re- 
sisting the temptation to ribaldry this topic extends. 
But here are two entirely different objections. 

9-22. Words such as ' immortal ', * pure ', * rapturously ', seem 
to fill out the line and put the drink in the far distant future. 
One further point were the cup brimmed, the ' pure cold crust of 
snow ' would certainly have slopped over some of the ' crimson 
wine ', and that were a pity and a mess ! 

For the sake of completeness it is worth adding 
that one protocol records an " intimate personal 
association affecting my opinion of the poem I am 
a teetotaller/' 

Passing now to matters more closely connected 
with critical opinion on the poem, two complete 
protocols may be set beside one another to show once 
again how often what most pains one reader is exactly 
what most pleases another. 

9-3. This poem is a fake. What passes for enthusiasm in the 
first few lines is in reality only a spurious form of ' heartiness '. 
The elaborate sea-harp simile is meaningless : the music, so catchily 
tuneful, that of a sublimated barrel-organ. The rhythm not 
organic but superimposed from without. But it is a clever fake. 
The writer has evidently had much practice in versification, he 
has a considerable degree of skill in putting words together to 
form a pretty pattern. He achieves a sense of completeness and 
finality in the sextet by alliteration which is almost enviably ' slick \ 
If he had anything to say it is likely that he would communicate 
it effectively : unfortunately he has next to nothing. His poem 
is a form of verbal flatulence and belongs to a class of verse which 
appears with distressing regularity in the pages of such periodicals 
as The Spectator and The London Mercury. 

9*31. / like this it is so exuberant and joyful I read it three 
or four times at the first attack, not because I could not make 
much out of it, as was the case with the third poem (No. XI), 
but because the poet's mood was so infectious, and made me feel 


as hearty as he must have felt when he wrote the poem. I think 
he has achieved a stroke of genius with ' Dawn the lonely 
listener ' and he succeeds in impressing us with his own mood 
by such words as ' mirthful ', and * rapturously '. The metre, too, 
is appropriate to- the mood, the verse goes with a swing, one 
might say. 

Here matter, mood, and movement alike come in 
for correspondent praise and dispraise, strong evid- 
ence that the poet has done what he wished and well 
suited his means to his end. Only those who objected 
to the aim quarrelled with the means. 

9*32. The whole poem seeks to slap you on the back with a 
false joie-de-vivre, and lamentably fails. 

Very many writers acclaimed this exuberance. It 
was certainly one of the two chief sources of the great 
popularity of the poem. It is admirably described in 
the following extract where the other source of 
popularity is also indicated. 

9-4. A poem of extreme enthusiasm and consequently filled with 
a sort of excess of expression which seems to say * Take me or 
leave me '. Personally I revelled in it. In the first half the poet 
gives his ideas with the help of alliteration and some telling 
phrases, especially his * lightning of the nights of Spring '. In 
the second he paints a truly grand picture. Colours, Alpine peaks, 
crimson wine, cold crust of snow, and mountains in the back- 
ground. An admirable poetical canvas. 

Colours and pictures, the appeal to the mind's 
eye, to the visualiser, is a source of attraction that 
able advertising agents have known and used for 
many years. 

9-41. I like the poem because of its colour and imagery. Lines 
such as ' brim one immortal cup of crimson wine ' always appeal 
to my sense of colour. That is why I like Keats. 

9-42. The poet has the right idea and picks his words care- 
fully with due regard to their effect ; so it is he gives us a mind- 
picture of the coldness of the snow and the crystal clearness of the 
crimson wine which is naturally immortal. 

POEM IX 125 

A question that had troubled many, though I have 
not represented it, is thus answered. Why im- 
mortal ? Naturally so. In what sense ? This 
writer does not venture so far, nor do any of the other 
writers who admire this much-praised line expatiate 
upon the epithet. The hostile party, however, not 
only quarrelled much about ' immortal ' but quibbled 
over l crimson ' too. There are clearly several senses 
in which we may have a ' sense of colour \ Nor was 
this the only colour-point objected to. 

9-421. There are jarring fallacies in the detail : Dawn is made 
to have pink eyes and green cheeks. 

But the majority w r ere content with a less metic- 
ulous examination. 

9*43. I liked the modern romantic freshness, the warmth and 

9-44. What I like in this sonnet are the two vividly -drawn 
pictures it contains, the first reminding me in its delicate touches 
of a Botticelli picture, and the second glowing with warm colour 
and human triumph. 

9*45. This is good. The lines go with a swing. The phrasing 
is musical and the imagery quite original and striking. 

Others were concerned rather with its fittingness : 

9-46. I was at first partly carried away by the succession of excit- 
ing images sonorously and effectively expressed, but was unable to 
respond fully to the poet's demand on my emotions. The sight 
of mountains stirs me deeply, but I am quite sure they do not 
occasion feelings at all comparable with any feelings of enthusiasm 
I might have for a fellow man. The difference is one of kind, 
not degree. 

Since visual images were concerned it is not sur- 
prising that different imaginers saw different visions. 
We have already read two descriptions (9-4, 9-44). 
Here are others. 

9*47. The second stanza suggests a Swiss Tourist Agency 


9-48. As to the Alpine simile, when one has shaken off the 
strong emotion which naturally arises when such associations are 
aroused, one is disgusted by the banality of diction and general 
railway advertisement character of the poet's manner. 

The enlivening effect of the sonnet is much re- 
marked upon. 

9-5. The mood of exhilaration is contagious > so that without 
appreciating the poet's reason for the feeling I share this 
exhilaration so that to this extent this poem fulfils the demand I 
make of poetry. To bring me in contact with a spirit who has 
pondered to such effect that his work will open a window of 
my own spirit to the larger purer universe of his own. 

9-51. The * Alpine peak ' and the * pure cold crust of snow ' 
convey exactly the sense of exhilaration produced by the intense 
and enthusiastic idealism of the poet. 

9*52. It exhilarates me by its series of vivid images. The 
adjective I think of in connection with these images is ' chaste '. 

A comment which, perhaps through association by 
contrast, reminds one of the American publisher who 
complained of the word ' chaste ' as ' always deplor- 
ably suggestive '. But certainly a too conscious quest 
for a larger, purer universe of intense and enthusiastic 
idealism does open ground for suspicion. 

Keats who occurred in an earlier protocol (9*41) 
reappears several times : 

9-6. The simile forming the last six lines of the sonnet is very 
fine ; it can be held on a par with that similar one by Keats at 
the end of his sonnet on " Chapman's Homer ". 

9'6i. The last verse is far clearer action, and there is something 
in the metre which seems suggestive of mountains for it brings to 
mind at once stout Cortes and a peak, in Darien. 

A much simpler explanation seems sufficient. The 
word * peak ' by itself would be quite enough. 

Images other than visual played their part. The 
mind's ear was invited to attend. 

9*7. * Surging away into the sunset glow '. A suitable diminuendo 
after the roar of the song of the sea and the lightning. 

POEM IX 127 

Readers with musical interests were more critical : 

9-71. The only concrete simile in the octet is the likening of 
the sea to a harp surely a little extravagant, 

9-72. The imagery is bad. The sea may sound like an organ 
but it never had the sound of a harp. 

9-73. One wonders if the poet has correctly grasped the idea 
conveyed in the description of the harp, 

11 each mirthful string 
Woven of the lightning of the nights of Spring ". 

9-74. A far-fetched metaphor in which the sea is pictured as a 
harp and each string , besides being mirthful, is made up of the 
lightning of Spring nights. For some unknown reason Dawn-. 
listens to the music of this incredible instrument. 

9-75. The first definite clue to the poem's true character is the- 
word ' woven J (5th line). Since strings are spun or twisted, 
* woven ' must have been brought in for its higher potency in releasing 
vague emotion. From that point onwards the poet was obviousbg 
overwhelmed with recollected phrases and pilfered epithets. 

The facts implied in this metaphor were also 
challenged on another ground : 

9-76. Common sense suggests that if the Dawn were present 
the lightning of spring nights would be inevitably absent. 

9-77. Since Dawn does not come into being till the end of 
night, the strings and the listener could not exist contempor- 

It is clear that the spirit of Dr Johnson has happily 
not altogether vanished from literary criticism. 

Failure to recognise the sonnet form appeared 
again : 

9- 8. It seems to be part of a drama 

9-81. This is essentially a piece of dramatic poetry, one which 
can only be properly appreciated when heard declaimed in the 
course of a play. 

Against these may be set a more common com- 
plaint, which incidentally well illustrates some of the 
dangers of technical presuppositions. 


9-82. I am confronted by a sonnet a cold fact recognised 
before I had read a word. I have very definite ideas of what 
should be the general content of a sonnet, and of all of them, a 
toast is outside the list. A ringing health needs a quicker, livelier, 
rhythm, a faster stream of rhymes than a sonnet affords. 

It will have been noticed that, for some of his 
readers at least (9-31, 9*45) the poet quite overcame 
these objections. Also : 

9-83. Subject chosen is very suitable to the sonnet form ; 
both are dignified. 

The favourable verdict of the majority has hitherto 
been insufficiently represented. 

9-9. I like it best, because it is a song from within me. The 
words are simple, consequently the sense immediately touches 
my mind. * Lightning of the nights of spring ', * one pure cold 
crust of snow ' recall ecstasies of my own. The imperative mood 
moves me directly. The long swinging evenness of the thought 
running unbroken through many lines makes it one emotion, 
not a series of metaphorical attacks. The poet has crammed in 
the most moving manifestations of nature, personified them, toasted 
the most austere of them in a rapture, and moved me beyond 

But surely this writer has himself, in the italicised 
passages, provided a quite satisfactory explanation. 

9-91. Appeals to me because of sincerity and nobility of 
sentiment. The warmth of the feeling justifies the hyperbole 
which might so easily sound hollow, but here seems the just 
expression of an emotion inexpressible in words. The appeal 
to the imagination is as strong as that to the heart, for nature is 
alluded to in its loveliest and grandest aspects. The poem must 
have a lasting value because of the freedom it allows the aesthetic 
sense in the images called up ' the lightning of the nights of 
spring ', the colours of sea-shell and wave. 

These, with the counterblasts in 9-22 and 9-93 
will serve to indicate the point upon which opinion 
chiefly turned whether the poem earned a right to 
exploit the associations it evoked. In other words, 
a problem of Stock Responses. 

POEM IX 129 

9-92. The poem contains all the customary apparatus of poetical 
hack-work, the conventional similes and personifications Dawn, 
the sea, sunset, the Alpine peaks all in fourteen lines ! 

9-93. The main experience has nothing to do with the first line. 
Health drinking may have given rise to the conviction that a 
song ought to be written even a sonnet, though that is a most 
unlikely form in which to express a mood of anniversary high 
spirits but then that isn*t the experience expressed. What is ? 
Almost certainly, an adolescent reaction to the vocabulary of the 

Only one writer made allusion to what may be 
thought a marked influence in the sonnet. 

9-94. The style is Swinburne cum water. 

The comments on this poem may show, more clearly 
than with any of the others, how much at a loss 
many readers are if required to interpret and judge 
figurative language. Several important questions as 
to the proper approach to hyperbole, and the under- 
standing of similes which are emotive rather than 
elucidatory, arise for attention. These matters are 
discussed in Part III, Chapter II. 

Climb, cloud, and pencil all the blue 
With your miraculous stockade ; 

The earth will have her joy of you 
And limn your beauty till it fade. 

Puzzle the cattle at the grass 

And paint your pleasure on their flanks ; 
Shoot, as the ripe cornfield you pass, 

A shudder down those golden ranks. 

On wall and window slant your hand 
And sidle up the garden stair ; 

Cherish each flower in all the land 
With soft encroachments of cool air. 

Lay your long fingers on the sea 
And shake your shadow at the sun, 

Darkly reminding him that he 

Relieve you when your work is done. 

Rally your wizardries, and wake 
A noonday panic cold and rude, 

Till 'neath the ferns the drowsy snake 
Is conscious of his solitude. 

Then as your sorcery declines 
Elaborate your pomp the more, 

So shall your gorgeous new designs 
Crown your beneficence before. 

Your silver hinges now revolve, 

Your snowy citadels unfold, 
And, lest their pride too soon dissolve, 

Buckle them with a belt of gold. 

O sprawling domes, O tottering towers, 
O frail steel tissues of the sun 

What ! Have ye numbered all your hours 
And is your empire all fordone ? 


MNEMONIC and other irrelevances, some problems 
of imagery, and a swarm of technical presuppositions, 
mainly concerning movement and diction, mark this 
set of protocols too, and the Stock Response is not 
absent. But some deeper and more disturbing 
problems, concerning not so much the nature of 
the poem as the kind of value it may possess, will 
be noticed to lurk frequently below the surface and 
to come out occasionally into explicit words. 

First, let us survey the more accessible particular- 
ities of opinion. 

lo-i. The charm of this is twofold : first, one can bask in the 
warm sunshine of a perfect September day (such as I have not 
experienced in England in 1927), and realise that America is a 
good country also, England having no "golden ranks" of corn ; 
secondly, the rhythm, rhyme and alliteration make one want to 
read it aloud a second time and then try to sing it. Did Bryant 
write it ? I don't know. 

The mnemonic pull, with less justification and in 
a totally different direction, also governs 10-11. The 
alleged ground in the tone of the poem is not easy to 
make out. 

io- 1 1. The authoress (I fear it is so) should be prohibited 
by law from ever approaching any child whose sense and 
imagination are not certified normal and healthy. The poem 
is the type which invades school anthologies though it is a disreputable 
offspring of Shelley (misunderstood) and a woolly sentimental 
mind. It endeavours to bring the young mind close to " Nature " 
by adopting a tone of skittish patronage. It is such and not the 
Goths nor the classics that desolate Europe. 

With 10-2 we pass to the image problem. 



10-2. / like this because clouds have a fascination for me. Also 
the passage of the cloud's shadow over the fields, cottages, 
gardens and the sea is cleverly told. If the test of the mental 
picture arising in reader's mind from poet's words is a test at all, 
the poem is good. Even the necessity of looking up " Limn " in 
line 4 did not detract from pleasure in reading it. The words 
are not so happy as the picture formed : one would get tired 
of having the picture raised in the mind by the repetition of the 
words. Musically they do not satisfy. Yes, the more I read it 
the less I like^it. 

On the metrical question we shall hear other views. 
The imagery issue, as we have learned to expect, pro- 
voked the most extreme divergencies of opinion. 

10-21. This is a very pleasant poem. // makes heaps of pictures 
in the mind some new, some recalling things one has seen before. 
Stanza 3 connected itself with a certain flight of stone steps for 
me at once. Stanza 5 is the best of all. One feels the chill, when 
the hot sun suddenly ' goes in ', perfectly. 

10-22. This poem fails utterly for me. The words do not call 
up the pictures of what the poet is trying to represent. The cloud 
shaking its shadows at the sun, or sidling up the stair appears 
merely ludicrous. / dislike the whole idea of the cloud with a 
pencil in its fingers. The poet does not give me the impression 
that a little cloud in the sky has really given him the inspiration 
to write ; all is artificial and sentimental. 

If suitable images are for one reader an invaluable 
adjunct to his reading, erratic images for another may 
be a fatal bar. In general the effect of the inter- 
vention of images is to make good better and bad 
worse. Images in reading are perhaps best regarded 
as a sign of how the reader is getting on with the 
poem, they are hardly ever a means which the poet 
uses, the gap between the verbal image (the figure of 
speech, the description, simile, or metaphor) and the 
visual image being too great, and readers' idiosyn- 
crasies too surprising. The littleness of the cloud 
in 10-22, and the pencil in its fingers are contribu- 
tions of this reader's uncontrolled visualising faculty 
and these exercises, like the refusal to see what the 

POEM X 133 

poet did try to suggest, are prompted by a prior 
distaste for the poem whose source is perhaps in- 
dicated in his final remark. This seems to be the 
usual state of affairs when erratic imagery intervenes. 
It is not invariably so as 10-23 w ^ show. A few 
victims of extremely lively and vivid imagery do 
really approach poetry (and life) through their visual 
imaginations, but often their other mental operations 
are able to correct and compensate for the freakish 
whimsicality this approach entails. 

I could make little of this poem. It persists in suggesting 
a night-marish forest scene, with giant drooping ferns, writhing 
snakes and flashes of red lightning in a blue mist. Superimposed 
on this, a still more weird picture of a tumbling Babylon. There 
seems to be a breathless haste in the words when read mentally, 
but not when read aloud. There is also a rapid and chaotic 
jump from idea to idea which is bizarre and confusing. None 
the less the poem is rather fascinating. 

This reader writes to me, " I visualise everything 
otherwise, things mean little to me ", developing by 
an accident of punctuation a criticism I would not be 
so rude as to make. 

Another curiosity of imagery will ventilate a differ- 
ent objection : 

10-24. This poem seems to me positively bad. Some of the 
lines are decidedly silly, like : " till 'neath the fern the drowsy 
snake is conscious of his solitude ". The image is so unpleasant. 
It seems the poet had a few vulgar ideas and thought he could 
write a poem about them. 

The reader has himself to blame if his image was 
actually unpleasant. If all allusions to snakes are to 
be avoided, how lacking in taste must Milton appear. 
And further, the assumption that only pleasant images 
have a place in poetry should be hailed and challenged 
whenever it appears. 

To pass now to quite another source of irrelev- 
ance ; critical preconceptions when they intervene as 


obstacles to reading are often respectable doctrine 
crudely applied ; of this the following may appear 
an example : 

10*3. The poem is dead because it wants in human interest. 
The poet has escaped from the world of men. His nearest 
approach to mankind is the * garden stair \ The interest of the 
poem lies in its cinematographic reproduction in words of a 
phenomenon which every mortal has the joy of witnessing with 
his own eyes. Success lies in the magic of words which in plain 
black and white are capable of exciting the senses to a vivid 
appreciation of a series of events the poet has himself minutely 
observed. Turner does as much by a different medium. 

It may be that l The proper study of mankind is 
man'. But, if so, in poetry everything that can 
interest man is part of him. Every poem is a tissue 
of human impulses, and mention of man and his 
affairs is not needed to interest us. It is a little 
difficult to make out whether in the end this reader 
overcame his preconception or not. 

Some other presuppositions, but of a technical 
order, deserve more attention. They are many and 
varied. First may be instanced the assumption that 
words in themselves have characters are ugly, beauti- 
ful, delicate, light, weighty or cumbrous apart from 
the way in which they are used. With it appears the 
parallel assumption that the * subject ' of a poem 
automatically prescribes a certain selection from the 

10-4. The alliteration in the poem is very effective and gives 
one the idea of the cloud drifting slowly over the land and sea. 
/ think the author has rather spoilt it in places by using long, ugly 
words, such as beneficence, encroachment and elaborate. 

10-41. The poet has endeavoured to paint a word picture of a 
cloud. In order to do this a poet must choose words in accordance 
with his picture. If the picture is going to be delicate, then must 
the words be light. If the picture is going to be heavy then must 
the words be weighty. This poet wanted to paint a delicate picture, 
but he mixed delicate and cumbrous words. Such words as 
miraculous, encroachments, elaborate and benificence tend to 

POEM X 135 

blurr the picture. Having painted his picture it is a pity to break 
it with a harsh question 

What ! Have ye numbered all your hours 
And is your empire all fordone ? 

The poet should be content that something beautiful has been 
shown to him. 

Everything of course turns upon the fashion in 
which the words are put together, and it is the 
detailed, instant to instant, development of the poem, 
not the separable subject abstractly regarded, that 
governs the diction. The final rebuke to the poet 
will be considered later. 

Allied objections were brought on the ground of 

10*42. Very ugly first verse. Climb, cloud 2 hard words, 
consonants together. 

Climb cloud and pencil all the blue 
With your miracwlous stocAade. 

Hard word like * limn ' not appropriate for the beauty of 
cloud scenery. 2nd verse, silly thought, awkward rhythm 
of second line. 

' Cherish each ' awful mix-up of ch and sh. I don't quite know 
what the last 2 verses mean what the steel tissue of the sun is 
but it doesn't seem to matter. 

10-43. The whole poem is a rather ungracious and blunt 
address to the cloud. It strikes me as the work of an amateur 
or beginner. On the whole it is ugly, chiefly because certain words 
are used, and placed badly. E.g. " Climb, cloud/' repeats sound 
cl. " Miraculous stockade " " his solitude J> are difficult to say 
easily and correctly, and are ugly when said correctly because of 
the repetition of the s sound. 

Without going so far as one reader, who heard in 
these last sibilants the hissing of the serpent, we may 
yet lay down as a general principle that no sound in 
poetry can be judged apart from its place and function 
in the poem. To apply canons of euphony from out- 
side and bar out certain conjunctions of consonants 
as ugly, without regard to their exact particular effect 


in the precise context in which they come, is as 
foolish as to condemn a line in a picture without 
looking at the other lines which may co-operate in 
the design. Such arbitrary canons are popular 
because they are simple and because they can be 
applied (like the imperfect rhyme test, cf. 2-12) with- 
out entering into the poem. Fairly specious detailed 
justifications for all the sounds here inveighed against 
could be worked out, but the justification would be 
nearly as arbitrary as the accusation. The relations of 
sound-effects to the rest of the happenings in the 
poem are too subtle and too mingled for any analysis 
to have much cogency. It is sad to have to discourage 
so harmless a pastime, but the facts are so. Most 
alleged instances of onomatopoeia, for example, are 
imaginary, are cases of the suggestion much more 
than of the actual imitation of sounds, and equally 
strong suggestion can be given in other ways. More- 
over onomatopoeia never by itself gave any line of 
verse poetic merit. All these are questions of means 
and to decide about most of them we have to look to 
the end. 

Parallel reflections apply to another technical pre- 
supposition that occupied many readers : 

10-44. The verse is jangling and jerky and is not what one 
would think of associating with the steady flowing of a fleecy 

The ' fleeciness ' of this cloud is possibly an 
accident of visual imagery. The poet said nothing 
about it. The demand for correspondence between 
subject and movement is a typical example of 
illegitimate technical expectations. The poet has 
certain effects in view. If he chooses to employ 
certain means, well and good. But to prescribe them 
is to confuse poetry with parlour games. This is true 
at least of English and of most European poetry. 
Matters appear to have been otherwise in Chinese 

POEM X 13? 

poetry, but so was it with Chinese battles. A 
victory was not a victory unless it was won on a 
fine day. 

A poet may imitate the motion of his subject by 
the motion of his verse. Sometimes it is a great 
merit that he does so, if his purpose requires that this 
should be done. It is never a defect if he does not, 
unless it is clear that he meant to, and that it was 
necessary for his purpose. Furthermore, the ques- 
tion whether or not a given movement of verse 
corresponds to any other movement, of visible things 
or of thoughts or of passions, is excessively delicate. 
It largely turns on whether the reader is willing to 
give it this correspondence, on the inducements the 
poet offers him to find it. For the rhythm of words 
is not independent of the way the reader chooses to 
take them. 

10-45. Floating, dancing movement of the poem its most striking 
feature. The second verse is the most successful in the whole 
poem one feels that the writer really has watched a summer 
cloud. Note effectiveness of the words " shudder " and " sidle ". 

Compare with this : 

10-46. The scheme of this poem is hardly suited to the light 
and airy subject which is full of motion, while the short monotonous 
stanzas are essentially static. 

The same writer introduces us to another illegiti- 
mate expectation which worried many. 

10-47. Unfortunately this poem immediately challenges com- 
parison with Shelley's " The Cloud " and somewhat naturally 
suffers by it. We cannot imagine this cloud would 

". . . bind the Sun's throne with a burning zone ". 

10-48. A comparison with Shelley's poem to the cloud, shows 
this poem in a very unfavourable light. The treatment is some- 
what similar, but whereas Shelley succeeds, this author fails 
completely. The poem is a fantasy untouched by imagination 
in the Words worthian sense, a cold, dead piece of work with 


no appeal to the reader. If it arouses any interest at all, it 
awakens antagonism. We are inclined to question whether 
clouds paint patterns on the flanks of cows, for instance. The 
last two stanzas seem turgid and over-loaded with gorgeousness. 
(Cf., however, 12-7). 

There are still some points about diction to be 

10-5. I consider this poem faulty. There is a tendency to 
introduce prosaicisms (puzzle, sidle, encroachments, elaborate) 
which, though doubtless deliberate, is not quite successful. 

10-51. I get too much of an impression of artificiality from 
this to like it. The words are picturesque enough, but the way 
in which they are strung together seems to me forced and in- 
sincere. " Puzzle ", " encroachments ", " shoot a shudder ", 
" shake your shadow ", " frail steel tissue " ... are all terms 
that seem to me either out of place or else too prosaic. It is too 
full of conceits to ring true. 

10-53. One is continually let down by such words as limn, 
encroachments and benevolence. 

10-54. Words with poor, commonplace and prosaic associations 
are used, e.g. stockade, gorgeous, hinges, sprawling, elaborate. 

10-55. Though occasionally the poetry rises to the highest 
poetic pitch yet it contains many words and phrases unsuited to 
verse. It adds a prosaic nature to the cloud to term it a ' stockade ' ; 
or to say that it ' sidles ' up the garden stair. More than * sidle ', 
the shadow would seem to glide swiftly over the steps. A bathetic 
ending to the poem is to describe the clouds as * sprawling domes ' 
and ' tottering towers '. It is realistic description, no doubt, but 
not poetry. A drunken man sprawls and totters. 

In the absence of any precise theory as to the 
nature of the prosaic and of any exact demarcation 
of poetic diction, the term * prosaic ' must be re- 
garded as equivalent only to * unsatisfactory '. It is 
often only a term of abuse. All the words and 
phrases objected to here are selected as particularly 
felicitous by other writers. The prosaic flavour 
attributed to * stockade ', whether through associa- 
tion with ' stocks and stones ', with stocks and shares 

POEM X 139 

or with bully beef, may indicate that Masterman 
Ready and Treasure Island are not as popular as they 
used to be. 

How oddly single words may be flavoured for 
individual readers may be seen from 10-57, perhaps 
another instance of an accidental visual image. 

10-57. ' Sprawling ', which is anyhow an ugly word to bring 
into the climax, does not belong to the kind of cloud that has 
citadels and a golden belt, but to the filmy pink variety. 

The chorus-girl type perhaps ! 
Another prepossession concerning diction we have 
met before : 

10-58. The mixture of Latin and Anglo-Saxon words is 
scarcely happy in many places. 

Who is responsible for disseminating this wide- 
spread piece of nonsense about the incompatibility 
of English words of different origin is a question that 
deserves to be looked into. It is too frequent not to 
have some active contemporary source. 

After the accusation of ' prosaicism ' that of 
* romanticism ' will be a change. 

10-6. Presumably cloud obliged by climbing and pencilling, 
etc. Whole ' poem ' choice example of ugliness of romantic animism 
(cf. Roll on, thou deep and stormy ocean !). If the wind had 
changed would poet have got angry ? Puzzle the cattle did 
anyone ever see cattle puzzled by a cloud. This written in study 
by one who might have done better by going to the country 
to learn that clouds are blown by the wind, and do not climb and 
puzzle cattle and shoot shudders, lay long fingers and perform 
similar human actions at command of prigs. 

" O sprawling domes, O tottering towers " 
O God ! O Montreal ! 

Possibly the vocative and the imperatives are 
responsible for this outburst. The poem succeeded 
in eliciting much vigorous abuse. 

10-61. This poet tumbles over his metaphors. We confess 
we have never seen a cloud ' pencil ' the sky with its * miraculous 
stockade ' and never shall. All is confused in the last stanza 


but one also. There is no clear image, nothing to tell that the 
writer has grasped the significance of what he is trying to describe. 
He has certainly brought no clear vision ; we seem to have 
heard of the * golden ranks ' of corn before. At last he gives 
up trying to describe even what he has seen, and bolsters up his 
verse with abstractions * wizardries ', ' sorcery', ' pomp ', ' bene- 
ficence ' terms for which the rest of the poem gives no justification. 
There is no rhythm. The metrical framework is just filled up 
according to the set pattern. The rhymes are vapid and meaning- 
less. The poet could have gone on rhyming a hundred similar 
stanzas. The last stanza is ludicrous, with its ' What ! ' and its 
feeble question. The whole thing breaks down. ' O most lame 
and impotent conclusion ! '. 

A few found the poem incomprehensible. 

10-62. The first two lines of the poem form a good index to 
the characteristic of the whole. The mixture of the metaphor is 
significant. Shelley in writing the Ode to the West Wind, 
conceived of the wind as of a person with very definite charac- 
teristics " the uncontrollable " " destroyer and preserver ". Our 
poet has no such clear conception ; and the result is that his cloud 
is as a person with no character, doing all kinds of things, per- 
forming all kinds of antics. There is the touch reminiscent of 
Lewis Carroll in the lines 

" shake your shadow at the sun 
Darkly reminding him that he 

Relieve you when your work is done ". 

In a single stanza, one learns how the cloud puzzles the cattle, 
paints its pleasure on their flanks, and shoots a shudder down the 
golden ranks of the cornfield. There is no need to multiply instances. 
The diction lacks strength as much as the poem, and often leaves 
one wondering what it all means. 

10-63. This piece bores and angers me. It is a mere string 
of words meaning nothing except that they seem vaguely to talk 
about clouds. Ridiculous phrases are endless " miraculous 
stockade ", " the earth will . . . limn your beauty (!?!?!) ", 
" shoot ... a shudder ", " shake your shadow at the sun " etc., 
etc., etc. It must have been written by a candidate for Colney 
Hatch, I should imagine. 

10*64. I cannot gather what made the poet wish these strange 
things. If the poet wants rain, why does he dare the sun to shine 
in the last verse ? It's all very obscure. 

POEM X 141 

Some special obscurity does perhaps attach to the 
fourth verse. 

10*65. ' Shake your shadow at the sun *, I dislike. I cannot 
imagine a cloud shaking its shadow at anything, and the word 
destroys the steady progress of the cloud through the rest of the 

The geometry in this verse proved too difficult for 

10-66. The cloud cannot shake its shadow at the sun, since it 
is between them, nor does it appear dark to him. 

Others supposed that the cloud itself shook and 
suggested that only thunder-clouds shake. But if it 
be the shadow of the cloud, not the cloud itself, that 
shakes, and if it shakes only through the motion of 
the sea, there seems to be nothing but sound physics 
in the thought of the verse. 

Equally so, if another interpretation is favoured : 

10-67. A cloud which, moving across the heavens, casts a 
shadow over the earth, causing as it were, a shudder on the 
areas it touches. 

A certain change of tone in the poem at the sixth 
verse will be noted. It caused much perturbation 
and searching of spirit. 

10-7. This poem, after raising me to the keenest delight for 
five stanzas, suddenly gave way and let me down again with a 
bang. The first part quickly met a response. Even as I enjoy 
the metaphysical poets, I rejoiced here in new imagery, familiar 
words in new connotations the alliteration added to the sonority 
of the lines. I like " puzzle the cattle . . ." and the cloud 
shooting " a shudder down those golden ranks " of corn ; I like 
it slanting its hand and sidling ; its " soft encroachments " ; 
I like its long fingers laid on the sea and the " noonday panic 
cold and rude ". The words seem simple and accurate the 
poem lives and means new vistas to me. Then, ah then. The 
sixth stanza is respectable, but " pomp ", " gorgeous designs ", 
and " beneficence " creep in unwelcome guests. The spirit has 
changed, Polonius is talking now where Professor Housman spake 
before. Aping the grand style succeeds so very infrequently, 
I wonder gifted poets still try and fail. 


10-71 . This pleased me at first by the easy quality of the 
metre which seemed in fact rather more suitable for addressing 
a cloud than Shelley's much brisker one, also the pictures were 
so very exact things such as * paint your pleasure on their 
flanks ' and above all ' sidle up the garden stair ' which exactly 
described one of the most fascinating things, to me personally, 
in nature, this constant pursuit of light by darkness, especially 
when seen in progress across an open tract of country from a 
mountain top. Then in the fifth verse I began to slow up. 
Something new had entered the poem. I struggled through the 
first two lines of the sixth verse and absolutely crashed at the second 
couplet. This may be due to natural stupidity, but I felt I owed 
the poem a grudge for misleading me as to the style at the 

The possibility that this change was something 
deliberately intended by the poet was not meditated 
by these two readers. If they had considered it I 
think it unlikely that they would not have changed 
their feeling. The manner in which they describe 
their sense of the change gives them the air of people 
pushing at a door that opens inwards. 

10-72. Slight, perhaps, but charming. An original idea worked 
out with the aid of original metaphors. An easy flow of language 
and sound construction. The " Then " of stanza 6 is perfectly 
timed to avoid monotony and at the same time preserve un- 
hurried motion. It is a pity that the last two lines tail off into an 
anti-climax which looks suspiciously like a stop -gap. 

These last two lines troubled many readers. All 
manner of conjectures were made as to their 
emotional tone, though no very satisfactory descrip- 
tion was given. 

1073. The last two lines are declamatory and spoil the effect 
of the delicacy of the preceding part of the poem. 

10-74. The question of the last two lines expresses a rather 
perfunctory and not really earnest regret hardly even a sigh. 

10-75. The feeling in the last verse of half regretfulness is 
important because it raises the poem out of the class of the 
pleasantly descriptive. It raises a question which the poet does 
not answer directly, except perhaps in the line " O frail steel 

POEM X 143 

tissue of the sun " which shows he is aware of both ideas, that 
all is illusionary or that all is of value. It is because he contrasts 
these 2 and raises this idea that the poem seems to me to 
be good. 

Echoes of The Tempest may be influencing this 
reader ; and Shelley, as well as Wordsworth, inspires 
and imperils the next. 

1076. You feel the cloud travelling rapidly in the first five 
verses ; declining in the next, and finally disappearing in a 
glorious sunset ; leaving the world cold and desolate behind it. 
The brief pleasure and joy of living is followed by darkness and death. 

But although the world totters, you feel the cloud still sailing 
inevitably on. The glorious survives, man's mortal work dies. 
You breathe " the still sad music of humanity ". 

10-77. This poem is the expression of a common enough feeling 
transitoriness . The whole of the first five verses is rapid move- 
ment the sudden change from dark to light, cold to warmth, 
the contrast between " frail " and " steel " suggested throughout 
by this fleeting note. It is doubtful if the poet thoroughly 
realised the emotion of joy of an added exhilaration in life 
through a knowledge of its transitoriness, which should be the 
natural sequence of the poem. He does not really express this 
in his last verse, which in its shallow moralizing lessens the more 
subtle result of the rest of the poem. 

The chief difficulty seems to be to admit that the 
poet may have intended a real transition in feeling ; 
that he may have passed the point at which 1077 
would wish him to stop and have gone on to do 
something more. 

10-78. It commences like an airy Robert Louis Stevenson 
rhyme for young and old, it ends with the tone of Kipling's 
"Recessional". Thus it seems to lack unity and to express a 
misapplied importunate spirit. If intended to be merely quizzical^ 
the clearly serious lines about " beneficence " and " pride " are 
out of place. 

Exactly how seriously the grandiloquence of the 
last three verses is to be taken, is the problem. That 
a slightly mocking tone comes in with * rally your 


wizardries ' is continued with c sorcery', ' pomp ' and 
' gorgeous new designs ' and culminates in the much 
disliked word * sprawling ' was not noticed. Humour 
is perhaps the last thing that is expected in lyrical 
poetry, above all when its theme is nature. If the 
poet is going to smile he is required to give clear and 
ample notice of his intention. 

Forty years back, when much had place 
That since has perished out of mind, 
I heard that voice and saw that face. 

He spoke as one afoot will wind 
A morning horn ere men awake ; 
His note was trenchant, turning kind. 

He was of those whose wit can shake 

And riddle to the very core 

The counterfeits that Time will break . . 

Of late, when we two met once more, 
The luminous countenance and rare 
Shone just as forty years before. 

So that, when now all tongues declare 
His shape unseen by his green hill, 
I scarce believe he sits not there. 

No matter. Further and further still 
Through the world's vaporous vitiate air 
His words wing on as live words will. 


AMONG the results of printing Poems X and XI on 
opposite pages of the issued sheet of four poems was 
the following : 

II- 1. This poem took me a considerable time to enjoy. At 
the first two readings I could make little of it the transition 
from verse 8 to verse 9 rather struck me. I think it is a little 
sudden. The poem strikes me as imagination run riot. The 
poem is at first a series of little pictures, very beautiful, and not 
extravagant for the poet has seized on the right words, 
* shudder ', ' sidle '. Then comes a rather extravagant passage on 
' silver hinges ', ' snowy citadels ', ' sprawling domes ', etc. Then 
the poet seems to turn, suddenly, to old reminiscences and one 
particular lost friend seems to occupy his thoughts solely, to the 
oblivion of the airy imaginations of the former stanzas of the 
poem. This change is suitably marked by a change in the verse 
form four lines to three lines ottava rime, the stanza form 
which, with a variation, Shelley uses for the * West Wind ' ode. 

Who shall say after this that our readers do not go 
out to meet our poets ? 

This poem stirred comparatively few flights of 
enthusiasm. One good reason for this is stated in a 
protocol, 1 1 -2, to which particular attention may be 
drawn. The demand there expressed is not often 
explicitly avowed yet it is frequently present and is 
doubtless the explanation of as much poetry-reading 
as it is of concert-going. 

1 1 *2. Its reflective, conversational manner awakens a quiet 
mood, rather than a rapture, and since rapture is what 1 want of 
poetry i it is lacking to me. Its allusion to * much, perished out 
of mind ', clothes its subject in a mysterious importance. ' Vaporous 
vitiate air ' offended me. Outside of the mood, / felt no real 
personal connection, no personal emotion. If they had been my 



words winging on, or my closest friend's if he had alluded to 
my death, or let me apply it so I should have felt it more 

The writer is making a demand we shall have 
little difficulty in agreeing to be illegitimate when he 
asks for personal emotion in this fashion. Yet 
poetry which refuses to be so misused is rarely very 
popular. His desire for * rapture ' may meet with 
more sympathy. But is there any good reason to 
require it from all poetry ? The confusion between 
quality and intensity of experience we have noticed 

The complaint that the poet here has avoided any 
violent stirrings of emotion appears frequently : 

!! 21. It arouses no emotions in me. I understand what it 
says, but feel no interest in it. 

This is a typical example. It is allied to two other 
expectations that the poet also failed to fulfil. 

ii22. The reader has a feeling of knowing the man described 
only at second hand. We are not made to see htm. 

1 1 '24. I feel there is something wrong with this poem. Perhaps 
it is that the poet plunges too quickly into his subject ; he does 
not pause to create an atmosphere. 

Vivid presentation, with or without a visual appeal, 
and ' atmosphere ' are, of course, rightly required 
from some poetry. It is a natural result that they 
should by some readers be expected from all. But 
to avoid them is often precisely the poet's endeavour. 
To prescribe what he shall try to do is less reason- 
able than to hope that he will do something we should 
not have thought of suggesting. 

The prescription that the dead man should be 
described led not only to disappointment. It led 
some to find more description than they perhaps had 

POEM XI 149 

11-25. He has, as he intended, given the reader a complete 
understanding of the man whom he wished to describe. 

11-26. We can recognise the subject of this poem as a man 
with depth of character, power of inspiration and leadership, a 
friend with a great and loving heart. 

To compensate for these excesses : 

11-27. Portraits of strangers seldom interest me, although this 
has the air of being a good one. 

One curiously logical enthusiast did come forward. 

11-28. Evidently written by a sincere admirer i.e. an idealist, 
for an admirer reveres the man who is carrying out his ideals. 
Since we are all idealists we must approve of this poem : extreme 
friendship between men (i.e. admiration) always appeals to us, 
since we imagine our state of life if we found someone who 
proves an inseparable part of whole. Bears mark of sincerity 
not idle tongue-worship : sincerity can never be despised ; 
another reason for approval. 

It is a pity that such admirable sentiments should 
make such insubstantial premises ; but the con- 
clusion that all idealists should approve of every- 
thing that other idealists do is more easy to reject 
than to refute. 

Complaints of obscurity were, on the whole, not 
more frequent than might have been expected. 

11*3. I think prolonged and very careful study might reveal its 
meaning. At present I have only an idea that there is one. 

11-31. Bad, vague simile " as one afoot etc." " His note was 
trenchant, turning kind " ? Language again vague and thought 
obscure : " can shake and riddle etc." Last stanza particularly 
ludicrous : as all the poem is inconsequential, trivial in con- 
ception and words, last verse sinks into bathos. With the 
language of degree of feeling of a Patmore or a Christina Rossetti, 
the inconsequence, the triviality and the cheerful faith of the 
amateur that after all the poem might be the real thing, mark it 
as fourth or fifth class. 

11*32. The poem seems an incoherent medley of unrelated 
fragments. Leaves the reader with no impression of the actual 
character or appearance of his subject. One learns that the old 
man has a voice of volume and power. 


Others learnt, or failed to learn, even stranger 

11-33. There is a feeling of the great, strong , silent man which 
means nothing at all. The poem is summed up in the last few 
words : " as live words mean ". I feel here that the poet is 
trying to make a strong impression and failing miserably. What 
are live words and whatever they are why should they vitiate 
through the vaporous air ? 

Not much more successful was this more apprecia- 
tive effort : 

11-34. A. few deft strokes of a powerful brush painting a 
portrait of a powerful character on a < counterfeit which Time 
would break ' if the poem were lost. I like the poem for (i) Its 
life-force, (2) its appreciation of truth of * live-words '. 

Points of diction came in for much discussion, 
even an admirer being shocked by the last verse. 

11-4. Merits of sincerity, of simplicity, of probability. Provides 
clear picture of subject. The line * I scarce believe he sits not 
there ' trembles on Browning's " This is Ancona, yonder is the 
sea ", but actually reaches the height of Wordsworth's " Milton ! 
thou shouldst be living at this hour. England hath need of 
thee ". Would have done well to end here. Last stanza weak: 
though this more due to vocabulary and construction. " Vaporous 
vitiate air " damnable. " As live words will ", to finish off tribute 
like this, very feeble : should have ended on note of words 
winging on. 

On the whole good, tho' apparently immature. 

The comparisons adduced probably explain why 
the ending so frustrated this reader's expectation, 
though the movement of the last line gave several 
sorts of trouble. 

11-41. The last verse is not convincing. " Vaporous vitiate " 
is not happy. Is it reasonable to expect air to be anything else 
but vaporous ? The briskness, almost the skittishness, of the last 
line of all I find intolerable. 

The answer to the question seems to be * In some 
climates, yes \ Intellectual-moral climates need not 
be supposed to be more uniform than their physical 

POEM XI 151 

analogues. We might agree, however, about the 
effect of the alleged skittishness if it existed. The 
rhythm of the poem seems to have been elusive : 

11*411. It does not seem great, but there is something 
attractive about it. I must say that it is the attraction of a jazz 
tune which one can only tolerate a few times. The poem may 
answer a real emotion, but so do some of the horrid writings on 
tombstones. r 

11-42. This is trash. There is no compelling subject , in fact no 
subject at all. The construction is forced and at times the 
metaphors are absurd. The second verse is nonsense. The 
second line of verse four is particularly poor, only excelled perhaps 
by the second line of the last verse. Who ever heard anything so 
strained, so artificial as " The world's vaporous vitiate air ". The 
effort was not worth the ink it used. 

Yet once more the fatal correlation may be 
observed : 

1 1 -42 1. I feel as though I were indulgent and just a bit 
sentimental, to say that it attains my standards except for the one 
phrase " vaporous vitiate air ". 

To complete the indictment : 

11-43. " He was of those . . . Time will break ", is a long 
way of saying " He hated all frauds ". Stanza 5, too, is very 
difficult to read aright. The poem has not the majesty required 
for an epitaph on an honoured friend. 

The prior demand expressed in the last sentence 
seems to have as little justification as the paraphrase 
given in the first. Here is another paraphrase to set 
beside those in 11-32, and 11*34. 

11-44. " All tongues declare", is being pompous over, "it is 
said " just for the sake of the form of the poem. " Vaporous, 
vitiate air ", is ridiculous rather than impressive. 

The exercise of imagining a better reason for the 
* pomposity ' may be suggested. 

1 1 -45. This might well have been written by one common- 
place clergyman of another commonplace clergyman. It is 
redeemed neither by pleasing metaphors nor deep thought, 


while passion is entirely absent. It failed after several readings to 
make any impression at all on me. One thing alone is striking 
and significant in the poem that the complimented person 
would never * wing ' * live words '. 

And to prove how rash some attempts to infer the 
character of a writer from his poetry may be : 

11*46. It is the work of someone who, whilst acquainted with 
much at second hand through the experience of others, has not 
taken the trouble to acquire his own set of experiences as a 
basis for values and judgment. 

Some more favourable opinions will redress the 
balance : 

1 1 '5. The rhythm at once suggests real emotion successfully 
dealt with by the technique (' That voice . . . that face ' 
simple, but not affectedly simple). The similes are used not as 
added decoration^ but to make the shades of experience clearer 
(e.g. 2nd stanza). So too * trenchant, turning kind ' shows 
an effort at accuracy which a lesser poet would have abandoned 
on account of the slight clumsiness involved. 

Some of the praise has, at first sight, an air of 

1 1 5 1. Heightened by none of usual poetic diction. Bareness 
varied by occasional effectively ugly phrase. Experience as bare 
as words, nothing more than statement of fact. Bareness gives 
impression of intensity. Poet has no time or wish to play with 
pretty images. Thing described too weighty to be added to or 
dressed up in poetic formula. 

11*52. We notice first the perfect suitability of the metre and 
the language. There is a tranquility and gentle melancholy 
which we can feel by reading the poem without paying very 
much attention to the subject matter. When this latter element 
is considered, it will be found that the poem is an harmonious 
whole. There is something very balanced and sane about this 
poem. It seems to say just what is wanted in the best possible 
way. Every sentence seems fitting there is no expression we 
should quarrel with. 

1 1 '53. This is the real thing. In contrast to Poem IX the 
rhythm is in the poem. Moreover there is a sense of universality 
about this piece which stamps it as poetry of the major order. 
The poet is not concerned with trivialities but with the funda- 

POEM XI 153 

mental facts of existence. His poem is in the best sense a 
" criticism of life ". It is positive, creative, dynamic. His 
technique moreover is equal to the task of giving completely 
effective expression to his experience. There is an economy, a 
lack of verbosity or any kind of ornamentation, which is utterly 
appropriate to the subject. The metre also is in keeping, and the 
rhyme-form one of considerable subtlety. The whole poem 
leaves one with a sense of complete satisfaction. 

11-54. This is a straightforward piece of work in the " middle 
kind of writing which . . . neither towers to the skies nor creeps 
along the ground " (Johnson's Life of Dryden). It is a graceful 
tribute, born rather of a general feeling slowly finding voice than 
of a definite emotional experience. The style, everywhere relying 
on the sequence of ideas, is appropriate (and this is the greatest 
praise) to an elegy on a dead friend : restrained and yet dignified, 
fresh without false emphasis, sincere without gush. 

Finally, lest this opinion should be thought too 
easily attained : 

11-56. I dislike it for its stilted and high-flung style, and feel 
that the author might have come down from his high-horse for just 
a moment in speaking of his departed friend. 

The further these researches extend, the more 
misleading does Bishop Butler's celebrated paradox 
appear. * Everything is what it is, and not another 
thing ', may be a convenient principle to apply to 
things when we have caught them, but until then it 
is a poor guide to the investigator. 

Solemn and gray, the immense clouds of even 

Pass on their towering unperturbed way 

Through the vast whiteness of the rain-swept heaven, 

The moving pageants of the waning day ; 

Heavy with dreams, desires, prognostications, 

Brooding with sullen and Titanic crests, 

They surge, whose mantles' wise imaginations 

Trail where Earth's mute and languorous body rests : 

While below the hawthorns smile like milk splashed down 

From Noon's blue pitcher over mead and hill ; 

The arrased distance is so dim with flowers 

It seems itself some coloured cloud made still ; 

O how the clouds this dying daylight crown 

With the tremendous triumph of tall towers ! 


HERE again some irrelevances have to be noticed, but 
in this case, as they had more influence in increasing 
the popularity of the poem so they may be thought 
to have more critical significance. 

1 2- 1. At a glance the poem reveals its grandeur and power. 
Not only is the description powerful but the very roll of the 
lines is as the rumble of heavy clouds. In these sonorous lines 
whose sound is so well suited to its sense, there is something 
which sets one dreaming. 

12- n. The majestic pageantry of the clouds is ever a favourite 
topic with poets. In the other poem on clouds, the atmosphere 
was light ; here the sky is black with rain filled clouds of ill 
omen. The poet conveys the right atmosphere. When I look 
at the evening sky in windy wintry moods, / always love to think 
I am looking at a pageant of souls, passing on to the throne of 
the Most High, to be judged and atone for misdeeds " The 
moving pageants of the waning day ". 

Is it unfair to be reminded of the concert-goer's 
explanation : "I always love to go and hear Tristan 
and Isolde. I live all my love-affairs over again " ? 

Several writers contrasted the poem with No. X. 

12-2. Offers a great contrast to the opposite poem. Here a 
certain grandeur, and reverence in the poet for his subject reflects 
itself in the verse. 

A poet who permits himself to be anything but 
very respectful to Nature does so at his peril. 

I2-2I. When this poet broods on the cloud patterns he sees 
not so much the long fingers on the sea and the shudder on the 
corn (though he is conscious of them and of their beauty) but rather 
the spiritual elements of which these are to him the symbols. 



The reader seems here to know too much. Another 
symbolist, however, in part explains these certitudes. 

12*22. Not merely a picture of nature but suggestive. The 
clouds are symbolic of some brooding spirit : they arouse dreams, 
desires, prognostications in their beholder. The atmosphere is 
that of the poet's mind : while we read the poem it hypnotises us 
into the same mood. We become languorous and absorbed in 
" the arrased distance ". 

The persistence with which so many readers 
loaded the poem with such extra interpretations, 
with Stendhalian * crystallisations ', has probably 
two explanations. 12-23 ma Y P ut us on the track of 
them both. 

12-23. I get more ' kick ' out of this at each reading, partly 
because of the rolling rhythm and sonority, and partly because I 
can feel something I cannot understand, and I want to go on 
trying to understand until I get right into the poet's mind. 
Like falling in love. 

This seems a valuable hint. The process is very 
like falling in love, under rather distant and formal 
conditions and without much intimate acquaintance. 

Others, with a different result, were affected in a 
similar manner. 

12-24. This is elusive at a first reading. One is led by the 
general vagueness of the opening to attribute to it poetic qualities 
which it lacks. Actually there is not a great deal to be said for 
it, it apes, rather obviously, Shelley's manner, with inconspicuous 
success. Nearly all the words are so well worn as to have 
become commonplace unless very adroitly used. When the 
writer attempts originality he is almost unintelligible. What, 
for instance, is the wise imagination of the mantel of a cloud, 
or the smile of spilt milk ? 

12-25. I f ee l someone is trying to play with my emotions, 
and I dislike it in the same way that I dislike sobstuff in a film. 

Those who most admired the poem gave as their 
reason, with unusual unanimity, the movement of 
the rhythm. 


12-3. I think this very good. Its power to move is in its 
rhythm which is so swelling and big and solemn in the first part. 
It does not give many pictures or visual images and I do not 
think the sense has very much to do with the effect. It is just 
that, somehow, one is brought into touch with the grandeur of 
the clouds, which one feels as a permanent thing not a transitory 
pleasure like that the clouds give in the second poem. 

i2'3i. The poem starts grandly: its stately roll approaches 

12*32. Here we have lines distantly reminiscent of Shakespeare 
and the ' honest boldness ' of the Elizabethans. Especially in 
the management of the long words, which help to * get across ' 
the effect of the vastness of the scene described, are we reminded 
of the great poets of our language. The vastness of the picture 
and the ideas of the poet are conveyed in magnificent lines that 
strain and nearly break down the imagination. 

Before examining these declarations more closely 
let us consider some of those objections which do 
not seem to invalidate them. 

The c pathetic fallacy ' is again made a ground for 
abuse. (Cf. 7-31 and 10-6.) 

12-4. The rest of the poem seems to be rubbish because : 

(a) A cloud cannot have * desires '. 

(b) A mantel cannot have * imaginations '. 

(c) ' Imaginations ' cannot * trail '. 

(d) ' Milk ' does not ' smile '. 

(e) * Dim with flowers ' is rather weak. I always thought 
flowers brightened things. 

(/) * Tall towers ' do not * triumph ' so far as I know. 
Anyhow I never saw one doing it ! Might be an interesting 
sight ! 

These complaints (except (#)) rest upon an assump- 
tion about language that would be fatal to poetry. 
All these things may happen in a poem if there is 
any good reason for them happening or advantage 
gained. Some sympathy may be felt, however, in 
the present instance, with complaints (6), (c) and (d). 
Worse-founded objections with the same pre- 
supposition actually stated are combined in 12*41 
with other misunderstandings. 


12*41. A terrible wash of words without any Swinburnian 
rhythmic music. After half-a-dozen readings one has a faint 
glimmer of the meaning, only to find it not worth while. There's 
nothing in the shop, But Lor ! Don't 'e take the shutters down 
dignified. Says the clouds sink in course of day, producing sunset. 
Again animistic pitfall : heavy with dreams, desires, prognostica- 
tions, Brooding with sullen and Titanic crests, they surge. 
Yes but they don't. They may be heavy with H t O vapour but 
that's all. The dreams etc. are in poet's mind. Should take 
a course in elementary psychology. Contradiction of arrased 
(arras shows clear-cut figures) and dim with flowers. The last 
line a Toothful. 

There is much here that will have to be discussed 
in Part III. 

The assumption that ' subject ' automatically de- 
fines * treatment ' dies hard. Several complained 
that the author's poem was not exactly that which 
they would have written themselves. 

12-5. Gone is the fundamental poetry of earth and all that the 
author supplies us with in its place, is a " mute and languorous 
body " what a joyless vision. Can anyone imagine Wordsworth 
receiving inspiration from such a cold cheerless sunset, duly set 
off by conventional clouds, with their " tremendous triumph of 
tall towers " ? no. Instead of the quiet beauty of an English 
evening full of the fresh smell of newly watered foliage, when the 
drowsy twilight creeps from the hawthorn thickets across the dusty 
white road and the wayfarer stops for his evening meal, we find 
an extravagantly portrayed vista of a totally unsympathetic and 
unnatural world. If poetry is the best words in the best order 
such words as prognostication seem a little out of place. 

Prosodists indulge in their usual antics. 

12-51. This sonnet is spoilt by its irregularity of arrangement, 
and by some harsh scansion. It is only by a great effort that one 
can render the first line at all as an iambic pentameter. The accent 
on " the " in that line is very ugly. Again in the gth line. 
There are three syllables in the first foot, and two are full long 
ones, so that " below " becomes something like " blow ". 

The simile in the gth and roth lines must be peculiar to 
the writer. In any case, why should Noon splash milk more 
than any other part of the day ? 

In the nth line we have a word which three English 
dictionaries fail to recognise. Does " arrased " mean the same 


as " erased ", or " raised ", or is it something to do with " scraped' 
up " or with " arras " meaning tapestry ? 

" The tremendous triumph of tall towers " is not strictly 
applicable to clouds which are the " moving pageant " which 
" surge ", yet trail a " mantle on the earth ". Such towers would 
be somewhat unstable 

12*52. The poem is depressing, the use of such words and 
phrases as " heavy as dreams ", " waning ", " prognostications ", 
etc. create a gloom which to me is almost " macabre ". The 
language is heavy, and prosaic ; in fact it seems almost like a 
piece of prose, turned into blank verse for the occasion. 

The complaint that the language is prosaic is 
hardly what one would have expected, nor do the 
rhymes seem so unobtrusive. 

Abuse that shows evidence of closer reading is not 

12*6. This sonnet is plastered with highly-coloured words 
whose use is not strongly justifiable. The fifth line, for example, 
is, though mildly pleasing, vague. ' Titanic ' is clap-trap. 
1 Mantles ' wise imaginations J is nonsense. The simile of the 
hawthorns is easily the best thing in the poem ; but there is 
some confusion in making the milk issue from Noon's blue 
pitcher why Noon? Moreover the very mention of Noon 
disturbs the picture of evening. * Arrased distance ' is an affected 
phrase, and ' dim with flowers ' is inaccurate. 

12*61. Licentiously verbose. Words used blindly for their 
mothy aura of suggestion rather than for their meaning. 

Comparison with Poem X exercised an influence, 
negative or positive, that was perhaps unfortunate. 
We may conclude with two protocols which show 
clearly what the main division of opinion, and the 
choice between the two poems, turned upon. 

12*7. This poem gives what the other poem on the cloud does 
not, the impression that the author is deeply moved by his own 
thoughts. This man can move us to see and feel the picture he 
shows the heavy menacing clouds, the deep violent colouring, 
the majestic grandeur of sky and earth. The clouds become 
alive, " brooding with sullen and Titanic crests ", " triumphant ", 
" solemn". With long weighty words " unperturbed 'V* imagina- 
tions ", " Prognostications ", " languorous ", " tremendous " ; with 


a sparing use of unimportant syllables the author achieves the 
desired impression of weight. It is a poem that can be repeated 
again and again for the mere delight of the richness of the language. 
It is an exceptionally strong and colourful poem, not merely 
descriptive but showing in a small degree the author's attitude 
to life. 

With this may be compared 10-48, by the same 
writer. It is interesting to note that neither he nor 
any other admirer of Poem XII attempted to ex- 
pound lines 9 and 10, though not a few were inclined 
to question them. 

12*71. This poem elicited a hearty grin and several re-readings. 
It annoyed me and I think I know why. It instantly challenges 
comparison with the second poem Nature, " clouds ", " tower- 
ing ", " decline ", " waning day ", " garden ", " flowers ", " corn- 
fields ", " mead and hill ", " crown ", and " towers ". This poem 
seems highly conceived. It ought to be enjoyable and yet I had 
great difficulty in catching its mood. When I was convinced I had 
it I found I was feeling quite artificial and unnatural. I believe 
it tries hard to be poetic the author knows his " poetic diction " 
(which I count against him). 

The subjects of both poems invite the reader to 
make up, in his own soul, a poem of his own. Both 
supply material. Any description of such scenes 
will easily start the poetic function going in the 
average reader. When, as in Poem XII, the in- 
vitation is coupled with a high-sounding grandi- 
loquent diction and a very capably handled march 
of verse, when, above all, the movement is familiar 
and ' hypnotic ', when there is nothing to force the 
reader to work at it, we feel safe in going ahead, the 
poetic function slips loose and private poems result. 
It was with such poems that so many readers fell in 
love. I am confirmed in this opinion by noticing 
that none, even of the most ardent admirers of 
Poem XII, attempted any close analysis of it of the 
the kind which admirers of Poem X constantly pro- 
duced. No one seriously tried to elucidate c whose 
mantles' wise imaginations trail ', to explain the force 


of ' mute and languorous ' or ' dim with flowers ' ; 
or to point out some appropriateness in ' the moving 
pageant of the waning day ' or to appraise moving in 
this line. The application of these words in the 
poem was little considered, they were enjoyed, as it 
were in vacuo, by readers content to loll at ease 
swinging softly in the hammock of the rhythm, 
satisfied to find at last something that sounded like 
poetry and disinclined to be at pains to ascertain 
whether it also read like poetry. 

There remains, of course, for later discussion, the 
question of the value of such swoon-reading as 
compared for example with the querulousness of 

In the village churchyard she lies, 
Dust is in her beautiful eyes, 

No more she breathes, nor feels, nor stirs , 
At her feet and at her head 
Lies a slave to attend the dead, 

But their dust is white as hers. 

Was she a lady of high degree, 
So much in love with the vanity 

And foolish pomp of this world of ours ; 
Or was it Christian charity, 
And lowliness and humility, 

The richest and rarest of all dowers ? 

Who shall tell us ? No one speaks ; 
No colour shoots into those cheeks, 

Either of anger or of pride, 
At the rude question we have asked ; 
Nor will the mystery be unmasked 

By those who are sleeping at her side. 

Hereafter ? And do you think to look 
On the terrible pages of that Book 

To find her failings, faults, and errors ? 
Ah, you will then have other cares, 
In your own shortcomings and despairs, 

In your own secret sins and terrors ! 


INDIGNATION rose high in the case of this poem, and 
ranged wide. A glance at Appendix B will show 
that it was by far the most disliked of all the poems. 
Some special explanation seems to be required for a 
combined attack so varied in temper, ground and 
direction, yet so united in hostile intention. 

As has been remarked before, a very wary eye is 
needed with any poetry that tends to implicate our 
stock responses. And this for two opposite reasons. 
If the easiest way to popularity is to exploit some 
stock response, some poem already existent, fully 
prepared, in the reader's mind, an appearance of 
appealing to such stock responses, should the reader 
happen to have discarded them, is a very certain way 
of courting failure. So that a poet who writes on 
what appears to be a familiar theme, in a way which, 
superficially, is only slightly unusual, runs a double 
risk. On the one hand, very many readers will not 
really read him at all. They will respond with the 
poem they suppose him to have written and then, 
if emancipated, recoil in horror to heap abuse on the 
poet's head. On the other hand, less emancipated 
readers, itching to release their own stock responses, 
may be pulled up by something in the poem which 
prevents them. The result will be more abuse for 
the hapless author. 

Now to illustrate and justify these reflections. 
Here is a writer who finds only a stock experience in 
the poem. He is only mildly disappointed however : 

13-1. This one seems to me a successful communication of an 
experience whose value is dubious, or which at most is valuable 



only on a small scale. Plainly, I think, the communication 
succeeds by reason of its medium ; simple, straightforward, 
almost bald language, making no demand on any peculiar 
individual characteristic which might be a bar to general appre- 
ciation, as in the poetry of Blake, for instance. The reasons 
for my judgment of the experience-value are harder to formulate. 
I think one may be that the experience does not go very much 
further than it would in the case of an " ordinary man " who was 
not a poet, so that its very raison d'etre is a questionable quantity. 
It does, in fact, seem to me rather trite. 

Here is another in the same case and only slightly 
less tolerant. 

13-11. The theme is commonplace and the poet has failed to 
give it new significance by his treatment. The simplicity of the 
poem is that of sentimentality rather than that of profound 

A third finds again only stock material and stock 
treatment. His description of what he finds, ' just 
a few commonplaces about Death the Leveller ' may 
make us doubt the closeness of his reading. 

13-12. The poet has attempted to describe a quiet contemplative 
mood. He has not felt it. These are just a few commonplaces 
about Death the Leveller uttered with an ill-feigned naivete which 
cannot pass for sincerity. The poem is like the oft-delivered 
sermon of a preacher who knows what he ought to say. Hence 
all its conventional tricks " a lady of high degree ", " vanity 
and foolish pomp", " Christian charity", "failings, faults and 
errors " he might have added " trespasses " and above all 
" the village churchyard", the conventional setting for ruminations 
upon death. 

The same interpretation appears in other protocols : 

13-13. The first three stanzas are preoccupied with the power- 
lessness of humans in the grip of death. 

The power of the stock response to hide what is 
actually in the poem is remarkable here, for he adds : 

13-131. It is all on the same dead level. Each stanza is divided 
into two parts which balance each other. But the two parts bear 
precisely the same relation to each other in each stanza ; and all 
the six half -stanzas embody precisely the same idea. 


The opposing danger that may arise from the 
interference of stock responses is well illustrated 
in 13-2. Instead of complaining that the poem is 
too much, he condemns it for being too little what 
he expected, but in the end he combines these 

13-2. This poem is rubbish. The first couplet invites com- 
parison with 

11 I wish I were where Helen lies ; 
Night and day on me she cries ", 

which shows up its crudeness. The dust in her eyes is confusing 
and the additional dust of the sixth line raises such a cloud that 
it is impossible to see through it. 

Questions in poetry rarely come off and this second stanza is 
weak-kneed. If only he could have substituted his questions with 
something like 

" She was a phantom of delight 
When first she gleam'd upon my sight ". 

// is not poetic to refer to the sensitive colouring of a maiden's 
cheek as shooting. 

The prophecy in the last stanza is a gross example of a pious 
platitude and an insult to anyone with a conscience. If the 
writer had been the first to tell us to remove the ' beam ' from 
our own eyes before looking for a * moat ' in another's the poem 
might have stimulated. But the thought has many times been 
better clothed. 

Whether there is any emphasis on ' you ' in the 
first line of the last verse of the poem, and, if so, of 
what character, are points discussed below. But, 
lest it be thought that I over-estimate the part played 
by stock responses in these readings of the poem, 
let me cite another example as to which no doubt 
will be felt. 

13-3. Or was it Christian charity, 

And lowliness and humility ? 

Might I be permitted to ask what ' it ' refers to ? Was what 
Christian charity ? Also does " the richest and rarest of all 
dowers " refer to Christian charity, lowliness or humility ? or 
all three ? If the latter then I must object, because Christian 


charity is a very ugly thing and neither rare nor rich (v. The Way 
of All Flesh, Samuel Butler, passim). 

The writer has evidently fitted himself up with a 
* reach me down ' reaction from one of the most 
up-to-date dealers. He continues with notable con- 
fidence in his powers of divination : 

13-31. Don't think I mind obscurity, because I don't ; but I 
do like to get somq meaning sooner or later, and this poem seems 
very muddled and confused. At all events the poem is not worth 
much effort on the part of the reader because the underlying 
emotion is not of sufficient value. Nor has the poet anything 
to impart to us, he merely writes to hear his own voice, and any 
other subject would have suited him just as well. 

Possibly the poem did not receive much effort in 
this case, but many other readers, who may have 
been more pertinacious, had little better success. 

13-4. The sentiments expressed in this poem are by no means 
uncommon. The poem leaves the reader as it found him. 

The first verse of the poem states the lady's present condition. 
The first two lines of the second verse ponders on the question 
as to whether she was a lady of high degree, then goes on to ask 

" Or was it Christian charity ". 

Was what Christian charity ? Perhaps the slaves lying at her 
head and feet, in that case was there need to ask the question. 
The charity of Christians hardly takes such a peculiar form. 

These slaves proved a great difficulty. 

13-41. I do not know what suggested the slaves to attend the 
dead ; if villagers' graves, the idea is far-fetched, if statuary on a 
monument to the lady, we are given no other hint of such a 
monument anyway, the metaphor is exotic and out of place. 

13-42. I don't know what the 2 slaves are symbolic of I 
should like to know. 

13-43. This gush of sentiment and evangelical piety is one of 
the worst things I have seen in the manner of Longfellow and 
Mrs Hemans. It has not even the merit of lucidity. // is not 
customary to bury slaves by the body of their mistress in a village 
churchyard. A typical mark of uninspired writers of verse is 
their tendency to dwell on the theme of the brevity of human 


life. This poem is a vague reflection on that subject, with little 
genuine emotion, good rhythm, or effective phrasing. 

This reader was very delicate for he adds : 

13-431. The number of marks of interrogation in the piece is 
enough to make one sick. 

Apparently, for all that, they were not enough to 
make him inquire what it was all about. If such 
burials were customary, the poem, which turns 
entirely upon the surprising presence of the slaves, 
would, presumably, never have been written. 

Some of the conjectures advanced by those who 
took note of this point were not lacking in daring. 

13-45. It is a satirical poem. The words which mar the poem 
as a poem of beauty aid it as a satire. These words persuade 
the reader that the poem is not to be taken seriously and we are 
not shocked too forcibly by the first verse in which, I believe, we are 
meant to realise that two slaves were buried alive with their dead 
mistress, and in the last verse the poet is able to deliver his attack 
on us because he has disguised his seriousness by a light, 
artificial manner. 

Why their dust should be as ' white as hers ', and 
whether ' those who are sleeping at her side ' are the 
same as those lying ' at her feet and at her head ', 
were further questions, and even some very careful 
and acute readers were in doubt whether a monument 
is implied. 

13-46. If the lady was not known to the poet before her 
decease how does he know that her eyes were beautiful ? And why 
bring such very big guns to bear on a piece of surely quite 
harmless curiosity unnecessarily hard on himself for asking a 
question very innocent if rather foolish for if Christian charity 
had prompted the disposition of the bodies the slaves would 
scarcely have been at the feet and head, but at the side. Its 
extreme seriousness and queer na'iveU point, I feel, to an American 

13-461. Why shouldn't slaves have white dust ? And is what 
Christian charity ? The coy surprise in the third verse at the 
lack of a response seems uncalled for. 


1 3 -462. Careful reading reveals muddle and makes response to 
the poem harder. 

" Dust ". We think of her dust in the earth. 

" Beautiful eyes ". This makes us think of her alive. But 
we know nothing about her, not whether she is "of high 
degree " or not. But here we are asked to assume her 
eyes were " beautiful ", presumably because she was a 

" But their dust is white as hers ". This muddles one. What 
is the point of it ? Why white ? Unless it is symbolic 
of something, it suggests that he had actually seen the 
dust. But he hadn't, apparently, to judge by the rest of 
stanza i. 

Then " those cheeks ". But she is dust, and here we are 
asked to think of her flesh. 

In view of all this there is reason to think either that there was 
some sort of a monument, or that she is seen sometimes as a 
heap of dust round a skeleton and sometimes as a beautiful 
corpse. This makes stanzas i and 3 worthless, because they 
build on a visual image which has no reality. 


13-47. If visual images are introduced, however, we need, I 
shall maintain, at least two sets. This I like but find imperfect. 
Dust in the eye has of course the authority of Nashe, 1 but I do 
not feel it quite right in this more concrete work. Nor do I 
know quite how to account for a lady in a village churchyard 
with a couple of Egyptian (?) slaves. And " their dust " seems 
to indicate that the bodies are long since pulverised, which is all 
right but jars with the dust-in-eye image. But also if the lady 
is dust you would hardly expect to find colour " shooting " into 
her cheeks. " Rude question " seems just a bit comic. But the 
rhythm seems to me good, and the last stanza is very good. If this 
is Longfellow it shows traces of his muddle of Gothic stuff with 
New England meeting-house experience. Not null, though, by 
any means. Simply a bit clumsy. 

It will perhaps be well to insert here my own 
interpretation of these points. 

That the slaves are negro servants seems sufficient 

1 Brightness falls from the air, 
Queens have died young and fair. 
Dust hath closed Helen's eyes. 


justification of the last line of stanza i . Those sleep- 
ing at her side are all the other inmates of the 
churchyard. I take the lines 

Dust is in her beautiful eyes 

No colour shoots into those cheeks 


to refer to her sculptured effigy, and find no difficulty 
in passing from the thought of the monument to the 
thought of the mortal remains at the end of the first 
stanza. This reading seems to me to remove the 
jars and inconsistencies felt by the two last writers. 
Whether there actually exists such a monument any- 
where is, of course, an entirely immaterial, though 
not an uninteresting, question. 

We may now turn to some of the objections 
brought not against the logic or clarity of the poem 
but against its tone and feeling. Here are some of 
the more spirited denunciations. The influence of 
the stock response danger will not be overlooked. 

13-5. This poem is a bastard of spurious rectitude and false 
simplicity or, if you prefer, was gotten by a small Squire on 
some cretinous evangelical ninny. (I hardly liked to come near 
it but must confess to being a little fascinated by such an emana- 
tion from Joanna Southcott's Gladstone bag). 

13-51. This poem is maudlin. Artistically it is beneath 
contempt. The meter is quite unsuited to the subjectas well as 
being irregular from verse to verse : the tripping metre of the line : 

And foolish pomp of this world of ours 

jars terribly. The thought is either bitter and coloured with the 
idea of retributive justice as in the last verse which is most 
unpleasant in tone ; or utterly commonplace, and cheaply senti- 
mental. It was certainly written by a neurotic or a fanatic with a 
diseased mind. 

Protests against the tripping rhythm were, indeed, 
not infrequent, and were associated with evidence of 
moral shock. 


13-52. Artistically insincere. Contrast the solemnity of the 
theme with the frivolous rhythm. 

(" On the terrible pages of that Book 

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum 

With a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no "). 

The uncertainty whether the slaves in the first stanza were really 
buried with the lady or only shown on the tomb, introduces an 
irritation at the start. There is a* mock pre-Raphaelitish simplicity 
in the 2nd stanza (" lady of high degree " " Christian charity ") : 
" this world of ours " is a piece of impudent sentimentality. Next 
stanza is a fuss about nothing ; and " rude " a serious lapse of 
taste. It is intolerable that this Sunday-school didacticism (vide 
especially stanzas 2 and 4) should be connected with the idea of 
death and decay. 

i3'53. From the rhythm of this poem I deduce that it was 
written in a state of semi-somnolence by a man with St Vitus's 
Dance. He was unable to keep himself awake after the end of 
the fourth stanza, and he wants us now to suppose that the 
poem ends there. I dare say that the author writes pieces like 
this with quite effortless fluency ; God protect us from this kind 
of spontaneity ! The author has no concrete notion of what he 
wishes to communicate, or why, and assumes a false, specious kind 
of naivete* to make his reader think he is being passionately 

A phrase like " foolish pomp of this world of ours " is both 
foolish and pompous. " The richest and rarest of all dowers " 
is sheer gush 

13-54. This is beyond all words. If the last stanza represents 
the purpose and spirit of the piece a sermon in four stanzas 
one can only be thankful the sermon was not any longer. Also 
the good lady's * failings, faults, and errors ' are most * common- 
place, everyday and typical '. Had the ' poet ' hinted at revenge 
by a jealous husband for a sordid domestic intrigue between the 
dusty wife and her dusky slaves, the last stanza might have 
assumed some reality. 

This expert on reality adds : 

13-6. I am no prosodist, but those who are will doubtless have 
some choice comments to make. 

They had. Here are some of them. 

13-61. The versification is worth examining. The first verse 
is presumably the criterion. It consists of three eight syllable lines 


followed one of seven syllables, one of eight syllables and one of 
seven syllables. The next verse consists of three nine syllable 
lines followed by one of eight and two of nine. The third and 
fourth verses seem to have no plan at all. The third verse 
consists of one line of seven syllables, three of eight, one of ten 
(hitherto imintroduced) and one of nine. The fourth verse 
consists of one line of nine syllables, followed by one of ten, 
nine, eight and two of nine. TJie irregularities of the metre are 
very confusing and displeasing to the ear. 

13-62. The rhythm is very poor. Although the arrangement 
of metres chosen is one with a pleasant lilt to it, the poet fails to 
keep any regularity of rhythm. In the first stanza, the first line 
and the fifth, the last line in the second, the last of the third 
and the first in the fourth only read comfortably by a difficult 
elision or an accent on the wrong syllable. For example, ' to 
attend ' has to be read ' t'attend \ The rhetorical questions are 
unfortunate in this light piece. The heaviness of the dismal, 
fatalistic last verse resembles a man of light build with a club 

Here, however, is a different complaint : 

I 3*63- The versification is correct, and flows with a gentle 
lilt, the sense stresses coinciding with metrical ones not in 
precisely the same pattern in every stanza but near enough to be 
tiring. The last stanza, too, (if counted on the fingers) reveals a 
derangement of metre. 

These opinions we may trace to a presupposition 
which we have seen in action before. That mis- 
understanding of metre which derives from the 
application of external measures. But another group 
of complaints against the movement of the poem 
must be noticed. These show an altogether superior 
understanding of rhythm and a much better applied 
sensibility. But they are perhaps too evidently 
motived by a violent negative reaction to the supposed 
stock sanctimoniousness of the poem. 

13-64 (continuing 13*5). I had come to hope, during the first 
three progressive spasms that the inane zigzag of her staggering 
would take her from me, as we passed, on a receding tack, but 
the monstrous accosting lurch towards me of verse 4 completed, 


as they say, my discomfiture, and my first instinct was to 
hurry off. 

This ' close-up ' lurch, however, jerked to my notice not 
merely the ludicrous pomposity of the portent, but that this 
pompous moral go-getting was spavined, also, by a peculiar structural 
disjointedness, as well as by a tendency, as it were, to mark a 
sort of muddy time, whether in bogged and sluggish redundance 
(as in lines 3 of verses i and 4),,or in a sort of awe-struck loyalty 
to the sanctimonious clichds in lines 3 and 6 of verse 2. These and 
other things, such as the peculiarly desperate staggering to the 
support in the last half of verse 4 of the rhymes, here hectically 
pitched like camp-stools, at the last moment, to catch their tottering 
burden such phenomena tempted me, I must confess, to linger, 
however distastefully, with " the case ". I thus observed that 
there was another, more typical, close to the linear spasm ; in 
this case the patient would accompany the more normal attain- 
ment of adequate stasis by a sort of repetitive ' caw ' which I 
again took to be intended for rhyme. I could not, however, be 
certain whether such apparently nuclear utterance was the cause 
of a process or the excuse for it. 

The justice of these strictures entirely depends 
I believe, upon the sense of the lines picked out for 
reproof, and our view of this is, of course, inseparable 
from our interpretation of the whole poem. Given 
the last writer's reading of the sense of the poem, and 
given his emotional response to the sense, as he takes 
it, then his reading of its sound follows. It is as 
subtly observed as it is surprisingly expressed. The 
question of the interconnection of form and content 
in poetry is here delicately illuminated ; and no 
better occasion could be imagined for insisting once 
more upon the meet subordination of means to ends. 

To come down to detail. First as to the * bogged 
and sluggish redundance ' of 

No more she breathes, nor feels, nor stirs. 

Another reader agrees. 

13-65. * No more she breathes ' we are told, and we are truly 
most surprised to hear that she ' nor feels nor stirs ' ! 

But poetry does not aim at conciseness if there is 
anything to be gained by expansion. The poet might 


reply that he was not aiming at surprise, but at its 
opposite, at making more obvious what is obvious 
already. More noticeably still with 

To find her failings, faults and errors. 

The alleged redundance has the effect of turning 
these things into a list, a catalogue an effect which, 
in view of the lines which* precede it, is hardly fair 
ground of complaint against the poet. 

As to the ' sanctimonious cliches ' of verse 2, if 
there are no such things here and so no ' awe-struck 
loyalty ' to them, the complaint against the verses as 
' marking a sort of muddy time ' lapses, supposing 
there to be some other warrant for the slowness of 
movement. And perhaps there may be. This second 
verse is discussing the motive which prompted the 
strange disposal of the slaves' bodies. Was it an 
ignoble and mundane impulse or a more extraordinary 
motive ? So far from being * a piece of impudent 
sentimentality ', the phrase ' this world of ours ' 
makes a necessary point ; and, if the great mystery 
1 Was what Christian charity ? ' is solved, the very 
strangeness of this possible instance justifies the 
epithets of the last line of this verse. 

Yet other complaints concerned the word * rude ' 
which is, indeed, the key to the tone of the poem. 

13-7. Surely an awfully frivolous, finicky word in the presence 
of death ? It seems to be used in the sense of " What a rude 
man ! " not in the much less offensive sense of rough or violent. 

13-71. Like a scurrilous controversialist the writer arbitrarily 
attributes to his imaginary interlocutor a despicable intention 
and then rails at him for it. One can see, without consulting the 
Book to which the writer refers, that he is a conceited, con- 
temptible prig. 

13-72. At times, also, the banality of the wording is ludicrous, 
reminiscent of an elderly maiden lady shaking a mittened hand in 
remonstration ' The rude question we have asked '. 

13-73. The winsome personal touches (e.g., ' the rude question 
we have asked ') strongly suggest Ella Wheeler Wilcox. 


Some of these associations we can safely set aside 
as just the personal misfortune of the individuals 
they distress. We have to ask what the tone of the 
poem at this point is and what the word * rude ' does 
to the tone. It was very generally assumed that 
since the subject of the poem is solemn the treatment 
must be solemn too, and many readers made it as 
serious as they could. Not unnaturally their results 
often displeased them. 

13-8. If the poem tends to check the reader from making specula- 
tions on other peoples lives then it has some value. The poem 
however does not seem to do this, but rather stimulates than 
quiets a man's interest in the private deeds of other people. The 
reason for this is that the poet lays too little stress on the results 
of the enquiry. This form of stimulation to the mind can do it 
no good and may do it harm. The poem is therefore bad. 

This seems perfectly to express a possible way of 
reading the poem. A reading whose solemnity fully 
merits all the adjectives that other readers found to 
fling against it. Sanctimonious, didactic, pompous, 
portentous, priggish, seem, indeed, if the poem is 
looked at in this light, hardly too strong. Only one 
reader attempted to state the issue between this view 
of the poem and another view by which it would 
escape these charges. And he so over-states his case 
that he discredits it. 

13-9. I am in two minds as to the intention of this poem. 
If the mood in which it is written is serious, if we are meant to 
take the situation in profound meditation closing in self-abasing 
remorse, then the whole thing is clearly vicious and preposterous. 
The idea of an eternity spent in turning up the files of other 
people's sins or crouching to cry peccavi for our own is either 
amusing or disgusting or both. But if the last three lines are a 
sudden impish whirl on the complacent moral speculation of 
the first three stanzas the whole is a very delightful little whimsy. 
It must be the latter " a rude question " very impertinent 
indeed. And if the latter the manner is perfect with its echoing 
parody of similar but serious poems. 

Yet on the turning-point of the word * rude ' he 
seems possibly to be right. For if, to state the middle 


view more fairly, the poet is not trying to be im- 
pressive, to inflate the reader with swelling sentiments 
and a gaseous * moral,' but to keep the poem cool 
and sober, he does so by bringing back the con- 
versational, the social tone ; and the word ' rude ' 
would begin this process. If this interpretation of 
the poem is right, * rude ' is simply an acknowledge- 
ment of the social convention, not in the least a 
rebuke. Whether the buried lady were proud or 
humble, this questioning of her motives in her living 
presence would have had the same effect. Her 
cheeks would have coloured with resentment or 
with modesty. And in both cases the questioning 
would have been an impertinence, a rudeness, in 
the simplest social sense. The word belongs to the 
texture of the poet's meditation and is not aimed at 
anyone, not even at the poet himself. It is the 
admission of a fact, not an attack upon anyone, or 

On this theory of the structure of the poem the 
last verse would be in the same tone. Not a grim 
warning, or an exhortation, but a cheerful realisation 
of the situation, not in the least evangelical, not at 
all like a conventional sermon, but on the contrary 
extremely urbane, rather witty, and slightly whim- 
sical. If it were said that it has more of a chuckle 
in it than a groan or a threat, that might be over- 
stating this view, but, even so, this would be a less 
distortion than that which evoked the following': 

13-91 (continuation of 13*5, 13*64). To close, as I began, on a 
suggestion of invective. This " poem " is a storm brewed amongst 
sodden Typhoo-tips, in the dregs of a cracked Woolworth 
tea-cup, by an incorrigible moral charlatan, simpleton, or bore, 
who has become immune from self-criticism through the public 
acceptance, nem con.> of a piously truistic diffuseness which 
easily flatters and cozens the naifly self-regarding morale of a 
society in part too simple, in part intolerably smug. 

We may grant that, if the demands of 13-8 repre- 


sent its aim, it might be all this. But another reading 
is possible, one by which the poem becomes a very 
unusual kind of thing that it would be a pity to miss. 
That so few read it in this way is not surprising, for 
if there is any character in poetry that modern 
readers- who derive their ideas of it rather from 
the best known poems <rf Wordsworth, Shelley and 
Keats or from our contemporaries, than from Dry den, 
Pope or Cowper are unprepared to encounter, it 
is this social, urbane, highly cultivated, self-confident, 
temperate and easy kind of humour. 


Let us go closer to the fire and see what we are saying.' 

(The Bubis of Fernando Po.) 




From whence it happens, that they which trust to books, do as 
they that cast up many little summs into a greater, without considering 
whether those little summes were rightly cast up or not ; and at last 
finding the errour visible, and not mistrusting their first grounds, 
know not which way to cleere themselves ; but spend time in flutter- 
ing over their bookes ; as birds that entring by the chimney, and 
finding themselves inclosed in a chamber, flutter at the false light of 
a glasse window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in. 


AFTER so much documentation the reader will be in a 
mood to welcome an attempt to point some morals, to 
set up some guiding threads by which the labyrinth 
we have perambulated may be made less bewildering. 
Otherwise we might be left with a mere defeatist 
acquiescence in quot homines tot sententice as the 
sovereign critical principle, a hundred verdicts from 
a hundred readers as the sole fruit of our endeavours 
a result at the very opposite pole from my hope 
and intention. But before it can be pointed, the 
moral has first to be disengaged, and the guiding 
threads cannot be set up without some preliminary 
engineering. The analyses and distinctions that 
follow are only those that are indispensable if the 
conclusions to which they lead are to be understood 
with reasonable precision or recommended with 

The proper procedure will be to inquire more 
closely now that the material has passed before 
us into the ten difficulties listed towards the end 
of Part I, taking them one by one in the order there 
adopted. Reasons for this order will make them- 



selves plain as we proceed, for these difficulties 
depend one upon another like a cluster of monkeys. 
Yet in spite of this complicated interdependence it 
is not very difficult to see where we must begin. 
The original difficulty of all reading, the problem of 
making out the meaning, is our obvious starting-point. 
The answers to those apparently simple questions : 
* What is a meaning ? ' ' What are we doing when 
we endeavour to make it out ? ' ' What is it we are 
making out ? ' are the master-keys to all the problems 
of criticism. If we can make use of them the locked 
chambers and corridors of the theory of poetry open 
to us, and a new and impressive order, is discovered 
even in the most erratic twists of the protocols. 
Doubtless there are some who, by a natural dis- 
pensation, acquire the ' Open Sesame ' ! to poetry 
without labour, but, for the rest of us, certain 
general reflections we are not often encouraged to 
undertake can spare us time and fruitless trouble. 

The all-important fact for the study of literature 
or any other mode of communication is that there 
are several kinds of meaning. Whether we know r 
and intend it or not, we are all jugglers when we 
converse, keeping the billiard-balls in the air while 
we balance the cue on our nose. Whether we are 
active, as in speech or writing, or passive, 1 as readers 
or listeners, the Total Meaning we are engaged 
with is, almost always, a bland, a combination of 
several contributory meanings of different types. 
Language and pre-eminently language as it is used 
in poetry has not one but several tasks to perform 
simultaneously, and we shall misconceive most of 
the difficulties of criticism unless we understand 
this point and take note of the differences between 

1 Relatively, or technically, * passive' only; a fact that our 
protocols will help us not to forget. The reception (or interpretation) 
of a meaning is an activity, which may go astray ; in fact, there is 
always some degree of loss and distortion in transmission. For an 
account of * understanding ' see Part IV, 13. 


these functions. For our purposes here a division 
into four types of function, four kinds of meaning, 
will suffice. 

It is plain that most human utterances and nearly 
all articulate speech can be profitably regarded from 
four points of view. Four aspects can be easily 
distinguished. Let us callHhem Sense, Feeling, Tone, 
and Intention. 

1. Sense. 

We speak to say something, and when we listen we 
expect something to be said. We use words to 
direct our hearers' attention upon some state of 
affairs, to present to them some items for con- 
sideration and to excite in them some thoughts about 
these items. 

2. Feeling. 1 

But we also, as a rule, have some feelings about 
these items, about the state of affairs we are referring 
to. We have an attitude towards it, some special 
direction, bias, or accentuation of interest towards 
it, some personal flavour or colouring of feeling ; 
and we use language to express these feelings, this 
nuance of interest. Equally, when we listen we 
pick it up, rightly or wrongly ; it seems inextricably 
part of what we receive ; and this whether the 
speaker be conscious himself of his feelings towards 
w r hat he is talking about or not. I am, of course, 
here describing the normal situation, my reader will 
be able without difficulty to think of exceptional 
cases (mathematics, for example) where no feeling 

1 Under * Feeling' I group for convenience the whole conative- 
aftective aspect of life emotions, emotional attitudes, the will, desire, 
pleasure-unpleasure, and the rest. ( Feeling ' is shorthand for any or 
all of this. 


3. Tone. 

Furthermore, the speaker has ordinarily an attitude 
to his listener. He chooses or arranges his words 
differently as his audience varies, in automatic or 
deliberate recognition of his relation to them. The 
tone of his utterance reflects his awareness of this 
relation, his sense of how he stands towards those 
he is addressing. Again the exceptional case of 
dissimulation, or instances in which the speaker 
unwittingly reveals an attitude he is not consciously 
desirous of expressing, will come to mind. 

4. Intention^ 

Finally, apart from what he says (Sense), his 
attitude to what he is talking about (Feeling), and 
his attitude to his listener (Tone), there is the 
speaker's intention, his aim, conscious or unconscious, 
the effect he is endeavouring to promote. Ordinarily 
he speaks for a purpose, and his purpose modifies 
his speech. The understanding of it is part of the 
whole business of apprehending his meaning. Unless 
we know what he is trying to do, we can hardly 
estimate the measure of his success. Yet the number 
of readers who omit such considerations might make 
a faint-hearted writer despair. Sometimes, of course, 
he will purpose no more than to state his thoughts 
(i), or to express his feelings about what he is 
thinking of, e.g. Hurrah ! Damn! (2), or to express 
his attitude to his listener (3). With this last case 
we pass into the realm of endearments and abuse. 

Frequently his intention operates through and 
satisfies itself in a combination of the other functions. 
Yet it has effects not reducible to their effects. It 
may govern the stress laid upon points in an argu- 

1 This function plainly is not on all fours with the others. See 
Part IV, 16 and Appendix A, where a further discussion of these 
four functions is attempted. 


ment for example, shape the arrangement, and even 
call attention to itself in such phrases as ' for con- 
trast's sake ' or ' lest it be supposed '. It controls 
the ' plot ' in the largest sense of the word, and is 
at work whenever the author is * hiding his hand '. 
And it has especial importance in dramatic and 
semi-dramatic literature. Thus the influence of his 
intention upon the language he uses is additional to, 
and separable from, the other three influences, and 
its effects can profitably be considered apart. 

We shall find in the protocols instances, in plenty, 
of failure on the part of one or other of these 
functions. Sometimes all four fail together ; a 
reader garbles the sense, distorts the feeling, mistakes 
the tone and disregards the intention ; and often a 
partial collapse of one function entails aberrations 
in the others. The possibilities of human misunder- 
standing make up indeed a formidable subject for 
study, but something more can be done to elucidate 
it than has yet been attempted. Whatever else we 
may do by the light of nature it would be folly to 
maintain that we should read by it. But before 
turning back to scrutinise our protocols some further 
explanation of these functions will be in place. 

If we survey our uses of language as a whole, it 
is clear that at times, now one now another of the 
functions may become predominant. It will make 
the possible situations clearer if we briefly review 
certain typical forms of composition. A man writing 
a scientific treatise, for example, will put the Sense 
of what he has to say first, he will subordinate his 
Feelings about his subject or about other views upon 
it and be careful not to let them interfere to distort 
his argument or to suggest bias. His Tone will be 
settled for him by academic convention ; he will, if 
he is wise, indicate respect for his readers and a 
moderate anxiety to be understood accurately and 


to win acceptance for his remarks. It will be well 
if his Intention, as it shows itself in the work, be on 
the whole confined to the clearest and most adequate 
statement of what he has to say (Function i, Sense). 
But, if the circumstances warrant it, further relevant 
aims an intention to reorientate opinion, to direct 
attention to new aspects,/ or to encourage or dis- 
courage certain methods of work or ways of approach 
are obviously fitting. Irrelevant aims the accept- 
ance of the work as a thesis for a Ph.D., for example, 
come in a different category. 

Consider now a writer engaged upon popularising 
some of the results and hypotheses of science. The 
principles governing his language are not nearly so 
simple, for the furtherance of his intention will 
properly and inevitably interfere with the other 

In the first place, precise and adequate statement 
of the sense may have to be sacrificed, to some 
degree, in the interests of general intelligibility. 
Simplifications and distortions may be necessary if 
the reader is to ' follow '. Secondly, a much more 
lively exhibition of feelings on the part of the author 
towards his subject-matter is usually appropriate 
and desirable, in order to awaken and encourage the 
reader's interest. Thirdly, more variety of tone will 
be called for ; jokes and humorous illustrations, for 
example, are admissible, and perhaps a certain 
amount of cajolery. With this increased liberty, 
tact, the subjective counterpart of tone, will be 
urgently required. A human relation between the 
expert and his lay audience must be created, and 
the task, as many specialists have discovered, is not 
easy. These other functions will interfere still more 
with strict accuracy of statement ; and if the subject 
has a ' tendency ', if political, ethical or theological 
implications are at all prominent, the intention of the 
work will have further opportunities to intervene. 


This leads us to the obvious instance of political 
speeches. What rank and precedence shall we assign 
to the four language functions if we analyse public 
utterances made in the midst of a General Election ? 
Function 4, the furtherance of intentions (of all 
grades of worthiness) is unmistakably predominant. 
Its instruments are Function 2, the expression of 
feelings about causes, policies, leaders and opponents, 
and Function 3, the establishment of favourable 
relations with the audience (' the great heart of the 
people '). Recognising this, ought we to be pained 
or surprised that Function i, the presentation of 
facts (or of objects of thought to be regarded as 
facts are regarded), is equally subordinated ? l But 
further consideration of this situation would lead us 
into a topic that must be examined later, that of 
Sincerity, a word with several important meanings. 
(See Chapter VII.) 

In conversation, perhaps, we get the clearest 
examples of these shifts of function, the normal 
verbal apparatus of one function being taken over 
by another. Intention, we have seen, may com- 
pletely subjugate the others ; so, on occasion, may 
Feeling or Tone express themselves through Sense, 
translating themselves into explicit statements about 
feelings and attitudes towards things and people 
statements sometimes belied by their very form 
and manner. Diplomatic formulae are often good 
examples, together with much of the social language 
(Malinowski's ' phatic communion '), 2 the c Thank 
you so very much ' es, and ' Pleased to meet you ' s, 

1 The ticklish point is, of course, the implication that the speaker 
believes in the ' facts' not only as powerful arguments but as facts. 
1 Belief here has to do with Function 2, and, as such examples 
suggest, is also a word with several senses, at least as many as attach 
to the somewhat analogous word 'love'. Some separation and 
ventilation of them, beyond that attempted in Ch. VII below, is very 
desirable, and I hope to explore this subject in a future work. 

2 See The Meaning of Meaning, Supplement I, iv. 


that help us to live amicably with one another. 
(But see Appendix A, Note i.) 

Under this head, too, may be put the psychological 
analyses, the introspective expatiations that have 
recently flourished so much in fiction as well as in 
sophisticated conversation. Does it indicate a con- 
fusion or a tenuousness t in our feelings that we 
should now find ourselves so ready to make state- 
ments about them, to translate them into disquisitions, 
instead of expressing them in more direct and 
natural ways ? Or is this phenomenon simply 
another result of the increased study of psychology ? 
It would be rash to decide as yet. Certainly some 
psychologists lay themselves open to a charge of 
emptiness, of having so dealt with themselves that 
they have little left within them to talk about. 
* Putting it into words,' if the w r ords are those of a 
psychological textbook, is a process which may well 
be damaging to the feelings. I shall be lucky if my 
reader does not murmur de te fabula at this point. 

But Feeling (and sometimes Tone) may take 
charge of and operate through Sense in another 
fashion, one more constantly relevant in poetry. (If 
indeed the shift just dealt with above might not be 
better described as Sense interfering with and 
dominating Feeling and Tone.) 

When this happens, the statements which appear 
in the poetry are there for the sake of their effects 
upon feelings, not for their own sake. Hence to 
challenge their truth or to question whether they 
deserve serious attention as statements claiming truth, 
is to mistake their function. The point is that 
many, if not most, of the statements in poetry are 
there as a means to the manipulation * and expression 
of feelings and attitudes, not as contributions to 
any body of doctrine of any type whatever. With 

1 I am not assuming that the poet is conscious of any distinction 
between his means and his ends. (Compare foot-note on p. 190.) 


narrative poetry there is little danger of any mistake 
arising, but with l philosophical ' or meditative poetry 
there is great danger of a confusion which may have 
two sets of consequences. 

On the one hand there are very many people who, 
if they read any poetry at all, try to take all its 
statements seriously anci find them silly. ' My 
soul is a ship in full sail/ for example, seems to them 
a very profitless kind of contribution to psychology. 
This may seem an absurd mistake but, alas ! it is 
none the less common. On the other hand there 
are those who succeed too well, who swallow ' Beauty 
is truth, truth beauty. . . .', as the quintessence of 
an aesthetic philosophy, not as the expression of a 
certain blend of feelings, and proceed into a complete 
stalemate of muddle-mindedness as a result of their 
linguistic naivety. It is easy to see what those in 
the first group miss ; the losses of the second group, 
though the accountancy is more complicated, are 
equally lamentable. 

A temptation to discuss here some further intri- 
cacies of this shift of function must be resisted. An 
overflow into Appendix A, which may serve as a 
kind of technical workshop for those who agree with 
me that the matter is important enough to be 
examined with pains, will be the best solution. I am 
anxious to illustrate these distinctions from the 
protocols before tedium too heavily assails us. It 
will be enough here to note that this subjugation of 
statement to emotive purposes has innumerable 
modes. A poet may distort his statements ; he may 
make statements which have logically nothing to do 
with the subject under treatment ; he may, by 
metaphor and otherwise, present objects for thought 
which are logically quite irrelevant ; he may perpetrate 
logical nonsense, be as trivial or as silly, logically, as 
it is possible to be ; all in the interests of the other 
functions of his language to express feeling or 


adjust tone or further his other intentions. If his 
success in these other aims justify him, no reader 
(of the kind at least to take his meaning as it should 
be taken) can validly say anything against him. 

But these indirect devices for expressing feeling 
through logical irrelevance and nonsense, through 
statements not to be taken strictly, literally or 
seriously, though pre-eminently apparent in poetry, 
are not peculiar to it. A great part of what passes 
for criticism comes under this head. It is much 
harder to obtain statements about poetry, than 
expressions of feelings towards it and towards the 
author. Very many apparent statements turn out 
on examination to be only these disguised forms, 
indirect expressions, of Feeling, Tone and Intention. 
Dr Bradley's remark that Poetry is a spirit^ and 
Dr Mackail's that it is a continuous substance or 
energy whose progress is immortal are eminent examples 
that I have made use of elsewhere, so curious that 
I need no apology for referring to them again. 
Remembering them, we may be more ready to apply 
to the protocols every instrument of interpretation 
we possess. May we avoid if possible in our own 
reading of the protocols those errors of misunder- 
standing which we are about to watch being com- 
mitted towards the poems. 



Que fait-il ici ? s'y plairait-il ? penserait-il y plaire ? 


THE possibilities of misunderstanding being fourfold, 
we shall have four main exits from true interpretation 
to watch, and we shall have to keep an eye open, too, 
upon those underground or overhead cross-connec- 
tions by which a mistake in one function may lead 
to erratic behaviour in another. 

We cannot reasonably expect diagnosis here to be 
simpler than it is with a troublesome wireless set, 
or, to take an even closer parallel, than it is in a 
psychological clinic. Simple cases do occur, but 
they are rare. To take aberrations in apprehending 
Sense first : those who misread ' a cool, green house ' 
in Poem //, the victims of c the King of all our 
hearts to-day ' in Poem IX ', the rain-maker (10-64), 
and the writer (5-2) who took Poem V to be * quite 
an ingenious way of saying that the artist has made 
a cast of a beautiful woman ' (if we interpret ' cast ' 
charitably), are almost the simplest examples we shall 
find of unqualified, immediate misunderstanding of 
the sense. Even these, however, are not perfectly 
simple. Grudges felt on other grounds against the 
poem, misunderstandings of its feeling and tone, 
certainly helped 2-2 and 2-21 to their mistakes, just 
as the stock emotive power of ' King ' was the strong 
contributing factor, mastering for 9-111 all historical 
probabilities and every indication through style. 

Mere inattention, or sheer carelessness, may some- 



times be the source of a misreading ; but carelessness 
in reading is the result of distraction, and we can 
hardly note too firmly that for many readers the 
metre and the verse-form of poetry is itself a powerful 
distraction. Thus 9-16, who understands that it is 
the King that is being toasted on the peak, and 5-3 
and his fellows, no less than 5-2, may be regarded 
with the commiseration we extend to those trying to 
do sums in the neighbourhood of a barrel-organ or 
a brass band. 

There is one difference however. All will agree 
that while delicate intellectual operations are in pro- 
gress brass bands should be silent. But the band 
more often than not is an essential part of the 
poetry. It can, however, be silenced, if we wish, 
while we disentangle and master the sense, and 
afterwards its co-operation will no longer confuse 
us. A practical ' moral ' emerges from this which 
deserves more prominence than it usually receives. 
It is that most poetry needs several readings in 
w r hich its varied factors may fit themselves together 
before it can be grasped. Readers who claim to 
dispense with this preliminary study, who think that 
all good poetry should come home to them in 
entirety at a first reading, hardly realise how clever 
they must be. 

But there is a subtler point and a fine distinction 
to be noted. We have allowed above that a good 
poet to express feeling, to adjust tone and to 
further his other aims 1 may play all manner of 
tricks with his sense. He may dissolve its coherence 
altogether, if he sees fit. He does so, of course, at 

1 For simplicity's sake, I write as though the poet were conscious 
of his aims and methods. But very often, of course, he is not. He 
may be quite unable to explain what he is doing, and I do not intend 
to imply that he necessarily knows anything about it. This dis- 
claimer, which may be repeated, will, I hope, defend me from the 
charge of so crude a conception of poetic composition. Poets vary 
immensely in their awareness both of their inner technique and of the 
precise result they are endeavouring to achieve. 


his peril ; his other aims must be really worth while, 
and he must win a certain renunciation from the 
reader ; but the liberty is certainly his, and no close 
reader will doubt or deny it. This liberty is the 
careless reader's excuse and the bad poet's oppor- 
tunity. An obscure notion is engendered in the 
reader that syntax is somehow less significant in 
poetry than in prose, and that a kind of guess-work 
likely enough to be christened * intuition ' is the 
proper mode of apprehending what a poet may have 
to say. The modicum of truth in the notion makes 
this danger very hard to deal with. In most poetry 
the sense is as important as anything else ; it is 
quite as subtle, and as dependent on the syntax, as 
in prose ; it is the poet's chief instrument to other 
aims when it is not itself his aim. His control of 
our thoughts is ordinarily his chief means to the 
control of our feelings, and in the immense majority 
of instances we miss nearly everything of value if 
we misread his sense. 

But to say this and here is the distinction we 
have to note is not to say that we can wrench the 
sense free from the poem, screw it down in a prose 
paraphrase, and then take the doctrine of our prose 
passage, and the feelings this doctrine excites in us, 
as the burden of the poem. (See p. 216.) These 
twin dangers careless, ' intuitive ' reading and 
prosaic, * over-literal ' reading are the Symplegades, 
the * justling rocks ', between which too many 
ventures into poetry are wrecked. 

Samples of both disasters are frequent enough in 
the protocols, though Poem /, for example, gave 
little chance to the * intuitive ', the difference there 
between a ' poetic ' and a ' prosaic ' reading being 
hardly marked enough to appear. Poem V , on the 
other hand, only allowed intuitive readings. In 2*22, 
10-22 and 10-48, however, the effect of a prosaic 
reading is clear ; in 6-3, intuition has all its own 


way, and the effect of its incursions in 11-32 and 
11-33, * s as striking as the triumph of the opposite 
tendency is in 12-41. l 

Still keeping to the reader's traffic with the sense 
as little complicated as may be with other meanings, 
mention may perhaps be expected of ignorance, lack 
of acquaintance with thejtsense of unfamiliar words, 
the absence of the necessary intellectual contexts, 
defective scholarship, in short, as a source of error. 
Possibly through my choice of poems (Poem HI 
did, however, bring out some odd examples) and 
perhaps through the advanced educational standing 
of the protocol- writers, this obstacle to understanding 
did not much appear. Far more serious were certain 
misconceptions as to how the sense of words in 
poetry is to be taken. (12-41 may have struck the 
reader as an example.) Obstacles to understanding, 
these, much less combated by teachers and much 
more troublesome than any mere deficiency of in- 
formation. For, after all, dictionaries and encyclo- 
paedias stand ready to fill up most gaps in our 
knowledge, but an inability to seize the poetical 
sense of words is not so easily remedied. 

Some further instances of these misconceptions 
will make their nature plainer. Compare the 
chemistry of 12-41 with the ' literalism ' of 12-4, 
10-6, 8-15 and 7-38. Not many metaphors will 
survive for readers who make such a deadly demand 
for scientific precision as do these. Less acute 
manifestations of the same attitude to language 
appear frequently elsewhere, and the prevalence of 
this literalism, under present-day conditions of 
education, is greater than the cultivated reader will 

1 I must apologise for the manual labour such references impose. 
I have tried to space these bouts of leaf-turning as conveniently as 
may be, with long intervals of repose. The alternative of reprinting 
all the protocols referred to proved to have counter-disadvantages. 
To mention one only the cost of the book would have been 
considerably increased. 


imagine. How are we to explain to those who see 
nothing in poetical language but a tissue of ridiculous 
exaggerations, childish ' fancies ', ignorant conceits 
and absurd symbolisations in what way its sense is 
to be read ? 

It would be easy to expound a grammatical theory 
of metaphor, hyperbole ..and figurative language, 
pointing out the suppressed 'as if ' s, 'is like ' s, 
and the rest of the locutions that may be introduced 
to turn poetry into logically respectable prose. But 
we should (as textbooks enough have shown us) be 
very little advanced towards persuading one of these 
hard-headed fellows that poets are worth reading. 
A better plan, perhaps, will be to set over against 
these examples of literalism some specimens of the 
opposing fault 5-3 and 5-32 will do as well as any 
others and then consider, in the frame supplied by 
this contrast, some instances of a middle kind when 
both a legitimate demand for accuracy and precision 
and a recognition of the proper liberties and powers 
of figurative language are combined. It may then 
be possible to make clearer what the really interesting 
and difficult problems of figurative language are. 

Let us therefore examine the hyperbole of the sea- 
harp in Poem IX in the light of comments 9-71 to 
9-77. We shall, I hope, agree that these comments 
rightly point out a number of irremediable incoher- 
ences in the thought of the passage. The sense has 
at least four glaring flaws, if we subject it to a logical 
analysis. Moreover, these flaws or internal incon- 
sistencies are unconnected with one another ; they 
do not derive from some one central liberty taken 
by the poet, but each is a separate crack in the 
fabric of the sense. Setting aside for a while the 
question of the suitability and fittingness of the 
figure as a whole, let us survey its internal structure, 
trying the while to find every justification we can. 

Taking the objections in the order in which they 



appear in the protocols, we have first the difficulty 
that ' the sea may sound like an organ, but it never 
has the sound of a harp '. I think we shall be forced 
to admit that the more closely we compare these 
sounds the less justification shall we find in their 
similarity. But this, by itself, is not a very heavy 
objection. A very slight similarity might be sufficient 
as a means of transition to something valuable. We 
ought never to forget, though we constantly do, that 
in poetry the means are justified by the end. It is 
when the end disappoints us that we can usefully 
turn to look into the means to see whether or not 
the kind of use the poet has made of them helps to 
explain why his end is unsatisfactory. 

Next comes the objection that each string of this 
harp ' is made up of the lightning of Spring nights '. 
Here the poet has undoubtedly abrogated both fact 
and possibility. He has broken the coherence of 
his sense. But to say this, of course, settles nothing 
about the value of the passage. I have urged above 
that nonsense is admissible in poetry, if the effect 
justifies it. We have to consider what the effect is. 
The effect the poet proposed is clear an exhilarating 
awakening of wonder and a fusion of the sea, 
lightning and spring, those three c most moving 
manifestations of Nature ', as some of the other 
protocols pointed out. But an external influence so 
compelling that it may fairly be supposed to have 
overridden both thought and intention in the poet 
is unmistakable, and we shall not fully understand 
this passage unless we consider it. As 9-94 pointed 
out, * the style is Swinburne-cum-water ', a sadly 
too appropriate admixture. Not only the diction 
(sea, harp, mirthful, string, woven, lightning, nights, 
Spring, Dawn, glad, grave . . .), and the subject- 
matter, but the peculiar elastic springy bound of the 
movement, and the exalted tone, are so much 
Swinburne's that they amount less to an echo than 


to a momentary obsession. A poet so dominated for an 
instant by his devotion to another, submitting himself, 
as it were, to an inspiration from without, may well 
be likely to overlook what is happening to his sense. 

The general problem of all responses made to 
indirect influences may here be considered. A 
reader's liking for this passage might often be affected 
by his acquaintance with Swinburne's descriptions 
and sea-metaphors. ' Who fished the murex up ? ' 
is a pertinent question. The point constantly recurs 
when we are estimating the enthusiasm of readers 
whose knowledge of poetry is not wide. Have they, 
or have they not, undergone the original influence ? 
It would be interesting to compare, by means of 
such a passage as this, a group of readers before and 
after they had first spent an evening over Songs of 
the Springtides > or Atalanta in Calydon. 

But however widely they read in Swinburne I do 
not believe they would ever find him turning his 
sea into lightning not even in the interests of 
Victor Hugo or Shelley. He is full of slight abroga- 
tions of sense. He is indeed a very suitable poet in 
whom to study the subordination, distortion and 
occultation of sense through the domination of 
verbal feeling. But the lapses of sense are very 
rarely so flagrant, so undisguised, that the reader, 
swept by on the swift and splendid roundabout of 
the verse, is forced to notice them. And, more often 
than not, when the reader thinks he has detected 
some nonsense, or some inconsequent distortion of 
sense, he will, if he examines it, be troubled to find 
it is he who is at fault. The celebrated opening of 
the Second Chorus of Atalanta in Calydon is a very 
representative example : 

Before the beginning of years 
There came to the making of man 

Time, with a gift of tears ; 
Grief, with a glass that ran. 


We may think, at first, that the tears should belong 
to Grief and the hour-glass to Time, and that the 
emblems are exchanged only for formal reasons, or 
to avoid a possible triteness ; but a littje reflection 
will show that several things are added by the 
transposition. With the third line compare the verse 
in A Forsaken Garden, which begins 

Heart handfast in heart 
and with the fourth line compare 

We are not sure of sorrow 

from The Garden of Prosperine. Some connection, 
though it may be tenuous or extravagant, can almost 
always be found in Swinburne, perhaps because of 
his predilection for the abstract and the vague. 
Vague thoughts articulate one with another more 
readily than precise thoughts. 

We have still to decide about the effect of the too 
audacious physics of Poem IX. Do they not destroy 
the imaginative reality that is to say, the proper 
power over our feelings of both the sea and the 
lightning, to say nothing of the harp and (presumably) 
the harper 1 that are in the background of our con- 
sciousness ? We can perhaps here extract another 
moral for our general critical guidance. It might 
take this form. Mixtures in metaphors (and in 
other figures) may work well enough when the 
ingredients that are mixed preserve their efficacy, 
but not when such a fusion is invited that the 
several parts cancel one another. That a metaphor 
is mixed is nothing against it ; the mind is ambi- 
dextrous enough to handle the most extraordinary 
combinations if the inducement is sufficient. But 
the mixture must not be of the fire and water type 
which unfortunately is exactly what we have here. 

1 It is not unfair, I think, to list' this missing harper among the 
blemishes of the passage, for the sea here has somehow to play itself. 
Cf. Swinburne, The Garden of Cymodoce, Str. 8, 1. 3 : 

Yea surely the sea as a harper laid hand on the shore as a lyre. 


Objection number three, given in 9-75, that strings 
are not woven, will illustrate this moral. The 
4 higher potency in releasing vague emotion ', that 
woven in a proper context certainly possesses, is 
damped and cancelled as it blends with the sea and 
lightning ingredients, nor is there anything else in 
the passage that it can seek help from in preserving 
an independent existence. 

The fourth objection, the time difficulty, is less 
serious. Personification, as we shall shortly see in 
connection with another passage, is a device which 
allows a poet to do almost anything he pleases with 
impunity provided, of course, as usual, he has any- 
thing worth doing in hand. The protocol writers, 
9.76 and 9-77, rely too confidently upon common 
sense, a useful servant to the critic but not to be 
entrusted with much responsibility. Surely we need 
not fly very high in imagination, not so high as an 
aeroplane may fly, to see night and dawn very 
plainly present contemporaneously in the cosmic 
scene. Or, with less imaginative effort, we may 
reasonably urge that in Spring the usual separation 
of night and day may be said to lapse. But will 
these justifications really help the poem ? Dawn, we 
may still feel, has really no sufficient business in the 
poem. She is there as a pictorial adjunct whether 
deserving of the opinion of 9-44 or of 9-421, I must 
leave it to the reader to decide, for the defect of 
syntax upon which 9*421 relies would be allowed, if 
the result were a sufficient compensation. But in 
her capacity as a listener she adds nothing. Dawn 
has certainly to listen to plenty of queer noises, and 
her presence does not necessarily glorify the song 
that the poet has in his mind. 

This has brought us to the larger question of the 
suitability of the whole figure, how well it serves the 
intention of the sonnet ; upon which some very 
simple remarks may suffice. This intention is neither 


recondite nor subtle being the expression of a rather 
vague and generalised enthusiasm, the creation of 
an exalted feeling. Nor is any great precision 
necessary in the feeling evoked. Any lofty, expansive 
and ' appreciative ' feeling will do. This being so, 
a certain negligence about the means employed is 
not unfitting. ' Qu'importe la boisson pourvu qu'on 
ait Vivresse ', might be our conclusion but for one 
consideration. The enjoyment and understanding 
of the best poetry requires a sensitiveness and dis- 
crimination with words, a nicety, imaginativeness 
and deftness in taking their sense which will prevent 
Poem IX, in its original form, from receiving the ap- 
proval of the most attentive readers. To set aside this 
fine capacity too often may be a damaging indulgence. 

We have been watching a group of readers, with, 
on the whole, a well-balanced tendency to literalism, 
making their points against a passage of figurative 
language whose liberties and inconsistencies were 
of a kind that might excuse the dislike which 
less well-balanced literalists sometimes feel for all 
the figurative language of poetry. Let us turn 
now to another group of exhibits, where rationality 
is rather more in danger of tripping itself up. Can 
the metaphors of the first two lines of Poem X, and 
those of the last two verses, defend themselves from 
the attacks of 10-61 and 10-62 ? Is their literalism 
of the kind exemplified in the chemistry of 12-41 
(which would be fatal to nearly all poetry) ; or is it 
the legitimate variety, aimed at the abuse, not at the 
use, of figurative language ? And if the latter, is it 
rightly aimed, does the poem deserve it, or have we 
here only instances of misreading ? 

First we may reconsider 10-6, with a view to 
agreeing, if we can, that the objection there lodged 
would really condemn a great deal of good poetry, if 
it could be sustained. It is a general objection to 
Personification and, as such, worth examining irre- 


spective of the merits of Poem X. ( Animism ', as 
this writer calls it, the projection of human activity 
into inanimate objects of thought, has been expressly 
pointed to by innumerable critics as one of the most 
frequent resources of poetry. Coleridge, for example, 
declared that ' images ' (by which he meant figurative 
language) ' become a proof of original genius . . . 
when a human and intellectual life is transferred to 
them from the poet's own spirit '. And he instanced 
it as * that particular excellence ... in which Shake- 
speare even in his earliest, as in his latest, works 
surpasses all other poets. It is by this, that he stiU 
gives a dignity and a passion to the objects which he 
presents. Unaided by any previous excitement, they 
burst upon us at once in life and power.' (Biographia 
Liter aria, Ch. XV). There are indeed very good 
reasons why poetry should personify. The structure 
of language and the pronouns, verbs and adjectiveg 
that come most naturally to us, constantly invite iJS 
to personify. And, to go deeper, our attitudfify 
feelings, and ways of thought about inanimate things 
are moulded upon and grow out of our ways $ 
thinking and feeling about one another. Our minds 
have developed with other human beings always ft 
the foreground of our consciousness ; we are shapeo, 
mentally, by and through our dealings with other 
people. It is so in the history of the race and in the 
individual biography. 1 No wonder then if what we 

1 Compare Wordsworth on the effects of the tie between the infant 
Babe and his Mother. 

For him, in one dear Presence, there exists 
A virtue which irradiates and exalts 
Objects through widest intercourse of sense 
No outcast he, bewildered and depressed 
Along his infant veins are interfused 
The gravitation and the filial bond 
Of nature that connect him with the world. 

The Prelude, Bk, II. 

One result is that for some seven years all objects are regarded 
more as though they were alive than otherwise. The concept of 'the 
inanimate' develops late. Cf. Piaget, The Language and Thought of 
the Child. 


have to say about inanimate objects constantly 
presents itself in a form only appropriate, if strict 
sense is our sole consideration, to persons and 
human relations. 

Often, of course, there is no necessity for per- 
sonification so far as sense is concerned, and we use 
it only to express feelings towards whatever we are 
speaking about (Function 2). But sometimes per- 
sonification allows us to say compendiously and 
clearly what would be extraordinarily difficult to 
say without it. Poem X in its third verse provides 
a good example : 

On wall and window slant your hand 
And sidle up the garden stair. 

Both ' slant ' and * sidle ' were occasion for divided 
opinions, as the protocols show ; those readers who 
took their sense accurately being pleased. To get 
this sense into a prose paraphrase with the personi- 
fication cut out is not an easy matter. In fact the 
task almost calls for geometrical diagrams and 
illustrative sketches. But the bending of the cloud 
shadow as it passes from the surface of the earth to 
the upright plane of * wall and window ' is given at 
once by ' slant your hand'. The changed angle of 
incidence thus noted adds a solidness and parti- 
cularity to the effect described, and since vividness 
is a large part of the intention of the poem at this 
point, the means employed should not be overlooked. 
Of course, if ' hand ' be read to mean a part of the 
cloud itself and not as the extremity of a limb of the 
cloud's shadow, the image becomes merely silly, and 
some of the condemnations in the protocols are 
explained if not excused. 

So, too, with ' sidle ' ; it gives the accidental, oblique 
quality of the movement of the shadow, and gives it 
in a single word by means of a single particularising 
scene. Condensation and economy are so often 


necessary in poetry in order that emotional impulses 
shall not dissipate themselves that all means to it 
are worth study. Personification, for the reasons 
suggested above, is perhaps the most important of 

But there are degrees of personification ; it can 
range from a mere momentary loan of a single human 
attribute or impulse to the projection of a complete 
spiritual being. Nothing recoils more heavily upon 
a poet than a too ample unjustified projection. As 
with some other over-facile means of creating an 
immediate effect, it destroys the poetic sanction, and 
seems to empty the poet in the measure that the 
poem is overloaded. In Poem XII the dreams, the 
desires, the prognostications, the brooding and the 
wise imaginations of the clouds' mantles may seem 
in the end to have just this defect. Yet to decide 
whether a personification is or is not ' overdone ' is 
a matter of very delicate reading. In 10-62, however, 
we have a complaint that the personification is not 
carried far enough and a useful peg for some further 
critical ' morals '. 

In the first place, what another poet (here Shelley) 
did in another poem is never in itself a good ground 
for deciding that this poet by doing differently has 
done wrong. This over-simple form of ' comparative 
criticism ' is far too common ; in fact we hardly ever 
see any other kind. Shelley's intent and this poet's 
intent differ, the means they use inevitably differ too. 
It is hardly possible to find instances so closely 
parallel that divergence of method will prove one 
poem better or worse than another. We have always 
to undertake a more subtle inquiry into the ends 
sought or attained. It would be an excellent thing 
if this type of critical argument could be labelled and 
recognised as fallacious. It is really only one of the 
more pretentious forms of recipe-hunting. This is 
not to say that comparisons are not invaluable in 


criticism, but we must know what it is we are com- 
paring and how the relevant conditions are also to be 

To come closer to this example, 10-62 has not 
asked himself whether so shifting and various a thing 
as this cloud can be given a definite character, whether 
a changeful tricksiness is not all the personality it 
can bear. A ' clear conception ' of the personality 
of the cloud would have hopelessly overburdened 
the poem. The poet indeed has been careful of this 
very danger. When after five verses of ' antics ', 
chiefly concerned with the cloud-shadows, he turns 
to the cloud itself in its afternoon dissolution, he cuts 
the personification down, mixing his metaphors to 
reflect its incoherence, and finally, * O frail steel 
tissue of the sun ', depersonifying it altogether in 
mockery of its total loss of character. This recog- 
nition that the personification was originally an 
extravagance makes the poem definitely one of Fancy 
rather than Imagination to use the Wordsworthian 
division but it rather increases than diminishes the 
descriptive effects gained by the device. And its 
peculiar felicity in exactly expressing a certain shade 
of feeling towards the cloud deserves to be remarked. 

Probably 10-62 expected some different feeling to 
be expressed. But 10-61, who also quarrels with the 
opening metaphor, seems to miss the descriptive 
sense of the poem for some other reason. In view 
of the effect of ' miraculous stockade ', no less than 
of * limn ', ' puzzle ', ' paint ', ' shoot ' and * sidle ' 
upon other readers, one is tempted to suspect some 
incapacity of visual memory. 1 Or perhaps he was 
one of those who supposed that a cloud rather than 
its shadow was being described. ' Pencil ', if we 
take it to mean ' produce the effects of pencilling ' 
(such are the exigences of paraphrasing) hardly 
mixes the metaphor in any serious fashion. Its 

1 Not of visualisation, however. See Ch. V and Appendix A. 


suggestion both of the hard, clear outline of the 
cloud's edge and of the shadowy variations in the 
lighting of its inner recesses, is not in the least 
cancelled by c climb ' or by the sky-scraper hoist 
of * miraculous stockade \ Incidentally, would it 
be capricious to meet the many objections to the 
sounds in these words (10-42 and 10-43) with the 
remark that they reflect the astonishment that 
a realisation of the height of some clouds does 
evoke ? c Miraculous stockade ' seems, at least, to 
have clear advantages over * the tremendous triumph 
of tall towers ' in point of economy and vividness. 
' Puzzle ' has accuracy also on its side against these 
cavillers. Anyone who watches the restless shift of 
cattle as the shadow suddenly darkens their world 
for them will endorse the poet's observation. But 
if the cows never noticed any change of light the 
word would still be justified through its evocative 
effect upon men. Similarly with ' paint ' and 
* shoot ' ; they work as a rapid and fresh notation 
of not very unfamiliar effects, and there is no reason 
to suppose that those readers for whom they are 
successful are in any way damaging or relaxing their 

With this we come back to the point at which we 
left Poem IX. We can sum up this discussion of 
some instances of figurative language as follows : All 
respectable poetry invites close reading. It en- 
courages attention to its literal sense up to the point, 
to be detected by the reader's discretion, at which 
liberty can serve the aim of the poem better than 
fidelity to fact or strict coherence among fictions. It 
asks the reader to remember that its aims are varied 
and not always what he unreflectingly expects. He 
has to refrain from applying his own external 
standards. The chemist must not require that the 
poet write like a chemist, nor the moralist, nor the 
man of affairs, nor the logician, nor the professor, 


that he write as they would. The whole trouble of 
literalism is that the reader forgets that the aim 1 of 
the poem comes first, and is the sole justification of 
its means. We may quarrel, frequently we must, 
with the aim of the poem, but we have first to 
ascertain what it is. We cannot legitimately judge 
its means by external standards 2 (such as accuracy 
of fact or logical coherence) which may have no 
relevance to its success in doing what it set out to 
do, or, if we like, in becoming what in the end it 
has become. 

1 I hope to be understood to mean by this the whole state of mind, 
the mental condition, which in another sense ts the poem. Roughly 
the collection of impulses which shaped the poem originally, to which 
it gave expression, and to which, in an ideally susceptible reader it 
would again give rise. Qualifications to this definition would, of 
course, be needed, if strict precision were needed, but here this may 
suffice. I do not mean by its 4 aim 3 any sociological, aesthetic, 
commercial or propagandist intentions or hopes of the poet. 

2 This was Ruskin's calamitous though noble mistake. See his 
remarks on the Pathetic Fallacy (Modern Painters, Vol. Ill, pt. 4). 
He is unjust, for example, to Pope, because he does not see tha 
poetry may have other aims besides clear thinking and strong feeling. 



My belief is that there every one is under the sway of preferences 
deeply rooted within, into the hands of which he unwittingly plays 
as he pursues his speculation. When there are such good grounds 
for distrust, only a tepid feeling of indulgence is possible towards the 
results of one's own mental labours. But I hasten to add that such 
self-criticism does not render obligatory any special tolerance of 
divergent opinions. One may inexorably reject theories that are 
contradicted by the very first steps in the analysis of observation, and 
yet at the same time be aware that those one holds oneself have only 
a tentative validity. FREUD, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. 

So far we have been concerned with some of the 
snares that waylay the apprehension and judgment 
of the sense of poetry, treated more or less in isolation 
from its other kinds of meaning. But the inter- 
ferences with one another of these various meanings 
give rise to more formidable difficulties. A mistake 
as to the general intention of a passage can obviously 
twist its sense for us, and its tone and feeling, almost 
out of recognition. If we supposed, for example, 
that Poem I should be read, not as a passage from an 
Epic, but as a piece of dramatic verse put in the 
mouth either of a prosing bore, or of a juvenile 
enthusiast, our apprehension of its tone and feeling 
would obviously be changed, and our judgment of 
it, though still perhaps adverse, would be based upon 
different considerations. The different intentions 
attributed to Poem II by readers who take it to 
express on the one hand * a deep passion for real 
life ' (2-61) and on the other ' an atmosphere of 
quietness and uninterrupted peace ' (2-71) reflect 
themselves in the different descriptions they give of 
its tone (' breathless tumultuous music ', * delicate 



movement with clear, fine tone, 1 gravity and steadi- 
ness '). More plainly the rather one-sided debates 
about the intentions of Poems VIII and XIII reveal 
how much this major aspect, as it were, influences 
the minor aspects, through which the major aspect, 
one would suppose, must be apprehended. The 
rapidity with which many readers leap to a conviction 
as to a poem's general intention, and the ease with 
which this assumption can distort their whole 
reading, is one of the most interesting features in the 
protocols. And its moral is perhaps as important 
as any that can be drawn. With most good poetry 
more than one look is needed before we can be sure 
of the intention, and sometimes everything else in the 
poem must become clear to us before this. 

Tone, as a distinct character in a poem, is less easy 
to discuss than the others, and its importance may 
easily be overlooked. Yet poetry, which has no 
other very remarkable qualities, may sometimes take 
very high rank simply because the poet's attitude to 
his listeners in view of what he nas to say is so 
perfect. Gray and Dryden are notable examples. 
Gray's Elegy, indeed, might stand as a supreme 
instance to show how powerful an exquisitely 
adjusted tone may be. It would be difficult to 
maintain that the thought in this poem is either 
striking or original, 2 or that its feeling is exceptional. 
It embodies a sequence of reflections and attitudes 
that under similar conditions arise readily in any 
contemplative mind. Their character as common- 

1 'Tone 5 in a quite different sense here, of course; but these 
descriptions of the qualities of the verse sounds do enable us to infer 
differences in the way the reader feels that he is being addressed. 

2 The originality of the thoughts and that of the expression are to be 
distinguished here. * The four stanzas beginning, Yet e?en these bones, 
are to me, original : I have never seen the notions in any other place ; 
yet he that reads them here persuades himself that he has always felt 
them.' Dr Johnson may be right in this, but I find it hard not to 
believe that the notions in these four stanzas have not been familiat 
to many who neither knew the Elegy nor received them from those 
who did. 


places, needless to say, does not make them any less 
important, and the Elegy may usefully remind us that 
boldness and originality are not necessities for great 
poetry. But these thoughts and feelings, in part 
because of their significance and their nearness to 
us, are peculiarly difficult to express without faults 
of tone. If we are forced ,to express them we can 
hardly escape pitching them in a key which * over- 
does ' them, or we take refuge in an elliptic mode 
of utterance hinting them rather than rendering 
them to avoid offence either to others or to ourselves. 
Gray, however, without overstressing any point, 
composes a long address, perfectly accommodating 
his familiar feelings towards the subject and his 
awareness of the inevitable triteness of the only 
possible reflections, to the discriminating attention 
of his audience. And this is the source of his 
triumph , which we may misunderstand if we treat it 
simply as a question of ' style '. Indeed, many of 
the secrets of * style ' could, I believe, be shown to 
be matters of tone, of the perfect recognition of the 
writer's relation to the reader in view of what is being 
said and their joint feelings about it. 

Much popular verse, of the type with which the 
name of Wilcox is nowadays somewhat unfairly 
associated, fails more in this respect than in any 
other. It ' overdoes ' what it attempts, and so insults 
the reader. And such overstressing is often a very 
delicate indication of the rank of the author. When 
a commonplace, either of thought or feeling, is 
delivered with an air appropriate to a fresh discovery 
or a revelation, we can properly grow suspicious. 
For by the tone in which a great writer handles these 
familiar things we can tell whether they have their 
due place in the whole fabric of his thought and 
feeling and whether, therefore, he has the right to 
our attention. Good manners, fundamentally, are 
a reflection of our sense of proportion, and faults of 


tone are much more than mere superficial blemishes. 
They may indicate a very deep disorder, 

The importance of tone appears clearly if we 
reflect how comparatively easy it is to acquire 
acceptable doctrines and how difficult to avoid 
mistakes in tone. 

We must distinguish, however, between what may 
be called fundamental manners and the code that 
rules in any given period. Good manners for the 
eighteenth century may be atrocious by twentieth- 
century standards, or vice versa , and not only in 
literary matters. There are more than a few verses 
in The Rape of the Lock, for example, which would 
be thought in very poor taste if they were written 
to-day. But the codes that rule wit are peculiarly 
variable. Of all literary products jokes are the most 
apt to become ' flat ' and tasteless with the passage 
of time. 

Eighteenth-century verse writers, on the whole, 
rarely foiget the reader. They paid him, indeed, 
rather too much deference, a result of the social 
character of the period. In comparison, Swinburne 
and Shelley often show atrocious manners as poets l ; 
they please themselves and continually neglect the 
reader. Not that good tone requires that the reader 
be remembered always, much less that he be con- 
stantly flattered. But the occasions on which he is 
ignored must be exciting enough to excuse the poet's 
rapt oblivion. Faults of tone, especially over-in- 
sistence and condescension, can ruin poetry which 
might otherwise have had value, though usually, as 
I have suggested, they betoken fatal disabilities in 
the poet. They may, however, be due to clumsiness 
only. The poet has to find some equivalent for the 

1 Unless we suppose that we are not so much being addressed as 
invited to stand by the poet's side and harangue the multitude with 
him. Tone in Swinburne frequently lapses altogether ; he has neither 
good nor bad manners, but simply none. This, perhaps, aristocratic 
trait in part excuses his long-windedness for example. 


gestures and intonations which in ordinary speech 
so often look after this whole matter, and this 
translation may at times ask for special discernment 
and tolerance in the reader. It will have been 
noticed that the reception of Poems V and VII was 
very largely determined by the readers' estimation 
of their tone (5-5, 5-8, 5-81^ 7-4, 7-43, 7-6). But in 
judging such questions we must remember, though 
it is not at all easy to do so, that tone is not inde- 
pendent of the other kinds of meaning. We can 
allow a poet to address us as though we were 
somewhat his inferiors if what he has to say convinces 
us of his right to do so. But when what he offers us 
is within our own compass, w r e may be excused if we 
grow resentful. The subtleties possible here can 
easily be imagined, and some effects that may seem 
very mysterious until we look into them from this 
point of view can then be explained. Questions of 
tone arise, of course, whether the reader is ostensibly 
addressed in the second person or not. The reader 
can be as grossly insulted in a third-person narrative 
or in an Elegy, by underrating his sensitiveness or 
intelligence for example, as by any direct rudeness. 

But the most curious and puzzling cases of mutual 
dependence between different kinds of meaning 
occur with sense and feeling. They are, as a rule, 
interlinked and combined very closely, and the exact 
dissection of the one from the other is sometimes an 
impossible and always an extremely delicate and 
perilous operation. But the effort to separate these 
forms of meaning is instructive, and can help us both 
to see why misunderstandings of all kinds are so 
frequent, and to devise educational methods that will 
make them less common. 

Let us set one complication aside at once. The 
sound of a word has plainly much to do with the 
feeling it evokes, above all when it occurs in the 


organised context of a passage of verse. Let us 
postpone so far as we can all consideration of this 
whole sensuous aspect of words (including their 
character as products of the speech-organs and their 
associated dance-movement) until the following 
Chapter, where the difficulties of the apprehension of 
poetic form must be tackled. In practice, of course, 
the sound is very important, as one of the causes 
(together with the word's history, its semantics, its 
usual applications and contexts and its special 
context in the poem) of the feeling it carries. But 
here let us confine our attention to the relations 
between sense and feeling and to the ways in which 
the feeling may be, in various degrees, dependent on 
the sense. And let us be careful to remember that 
we are concerned, firstly, with the feeling actually 
aroused by the word in the poem, not with feelings 
the word might have in other contexts, or the 
feeling it generally has, or the feeling it ' ought to 
have ', though these may with advantage be re- 
membered, for a word's feeling is often determined 
in part by its sense in other contexts. 1 

Even the evident complexities of this subject are 
prodigious, and it must be left for some treatise of 
the future on the Emotive Functions of Language 
to display in full their tedium, their beauty, and their 
supreme significance. 2 Here three main situations 
can alone be discussed, three types of the interrelation 
of sense and feeling. 

Type I. This is the most obvious case where the 
feeling is generated by and governed by the sense. 

1 On the semantic aspects of this, Owen Barfield, History in 
English Words, may be profitably consulted. His Poetic Diction is 
less satisfactory, owing to an unfortunate attempt to construct a 
philosophical account of meaning an account which blurs the 
distinction between thought and feeling and reduces the many-sided 
subject of Meaning to a matter of one aspect only, namely, semantics. 

2 If we reflect, for example, upon the emotive formuke in the 
liturgies of various religions, we shall not underrate the importance 
of this topic. 


The feeling evoked is the result of apprehending the 
sense. As examples, ' miraculous y and ' sorcery ' 
may serve (Poem X). Given the apprehension of 
their sense, the feeling follows, and as a rule the two, 
sense and feeling, seem to form an indissoluble whole. 

Type II. Here there is an equally close tie, but 
fixed the other way round. For the word first 
expresses a feeling, and such sense as it conveys is 
derived from the feeling. ' Gorgeous ' (Poem X] is 
an excellent example ; its sense is ' being of a kind 
to excite such and such feelings '. The description 
of the feelings would have to be long and include 
mention of a tendency to contempt, grudging 
admiration, and a certain richness and fullness and, 
perhaps, satiation. ' Gorgeous ', it will be noticed, 
is a representative ' aesthetic ' or c projectile ' adjec- 
tive. 1 It registers a * projection ' of feeling, and 
may be considered along with * beautiful ', ' pleasant * 
and * good ' in some of their uses. 

Type HI. Here sense and feeling are less closely 
knit : their alliance comes about through their 
context. ' Sprawling ' may be taken as an example. 
Its sense (in Poem X) may be indicated as an absence 
of symmetry, regularity, poise, and coherence, and 
a stretched and loose disposition of parts. I have 
been careful here to use only neutral (or nearly 
neutral) words, in order not to import the feeling 
in my paraphrase of the sense. The feeling of 
' sprawling ' here is a mixture of good-humoured 
mockery and affected commiseration. And this 
feeling arises from the sense of the word only through 
the influence of the rest of the poem. It does not 
derive at all inevitably from the sense of the word 
considered by itself. One test by which we can 
distinguish Type III from Type I is by noticing that 

1 See Appendix A, Note 3. Like most projectile adjectives it is 
applied to very different things by different people. 


very special circumstances would be needed to make 
' miraculous ' evoke quite another set of feelings, 
whereas no great change need be imagined for 
' sprawling ' to excite feelings either of contempt or 
of easeful relaxation. As 10-55 puts it, ' A drunken 
man sprawls and totters ', and 10-57 has some other 
association, though what^t is, is open to conjecture. 

The looser relation described in Type III is of 
course the usual condition in poetry. Its separation 
from Type I x is a matter only of degree, for no 
word carries a fixed feeling quite irrespective of its 
context. But the distinction between words whose 
feeling tends to dominate their context and words of 
a more malleable nature is useful, for upon it most 
mistakes in apprehending feeling turn. The last 
two lines of Donne's Sonnet (3*12, 3*31, 3*41), the 
last verse but one of Poem VII (7-4, 7-43, 7-53), 
' boom ', * poised ', and * tinkling ' in Poem VIII 
(8-1, 8-n, 8-13), ' immortal ' in Poem IX (9-41, 9*42) 
'vaporous vitiate air ' in Poem XI (i i -2, 11-4, 11-421), 
and ' rude ' in Poem XIII (13-7, 13*73), provide 
some examples upon which to test the distinction. 
Is the pull exerted by the context (and in these 
cases the whole of the rest of the poem is the con- 
text) sufficient to overcome what may be described 
as the normal separate feeling of the questionable 
word ? Can this pull bring it in, as an item either 
in accordance or in due contrast to the rest ? Or 
does the word resist, stay outside, or wrench the 
rest of the poem into crudity or confusion ? To 
triumph over the resistances of words may some- 
times be considered the measure of a poet's power 
(Shakespeare being the obvious example), but more 

1 These types of situation are not mutually exclusive. The same 
word may give rise simultaneously to situations of Types I and II. 
We are often unable to say which of the two, sense or feeling, is the 
dominant partner, both views being possible. The dilemma may be 
a tribute to our insight rather than a sign of its deficiency, for both 
views may be true. 


often it is the measure of his discretion, and a 
reader who is aware of the complexity and delicacy 
of the reconciliations of diverse feelings that poetry 
effects will walk as carefully. 

The influence of the rest of the poem upon the 
single word or phrase is exerted in two ways 
directly between feelings and indirectly through sense. 
The feelings already occupying the mind limit the 
possibilities of the new word ; they may tinge it, 
they may bring out one of its possible feelings with 
an added tang of contrast. Words, as we all recognise, 
are as ambiguous in their feeling as in their sense ; 
but, though we can track down their equivocations 
of sense to some extent, we are comparatively help- 
less with their ambiguities of feeling. We only 
know that words are chameleon-like in their feeling, 
governed in an irregular fashion by their surroundings. 
In this ' psychical relativity ' words may be compared 
with colours, but of the laws governing the effects of 
collocation and admixture hardly anything is known. 

It is more interesting, therefore, to consider the 
other way in which the feeling of a phrase or word is 
controlled by the context through the transactions 
between parts of the sense in the whole passage. 
On this much more can be said, for here the whole 
apparatus of our verbal and logical intelligence can 
be brought to bear. When a phrase strikes us as 
particularly happy, or particularly unfortunate, we 
can usually contrive, by examining the fabric of the 
sense into which it fits, to find rational grounds for 
our approval or dislike. And we often seem to see 
clearly why the emotional effect should be just what 
it is. But there is an odd fact to be noted which 
may make us hesitate. The phrase commonly is 
accepted or rejected, and its feeling merged, for 
good or ill, into the poem long before the discursive 
intelligence has performed its task of working out 
the cross-implications, affiliations and discrepancies 


of senses which later on may seem the explanation 
of its success or failure. 

Three conjectures may be offered to account for 
an instantaneity which has led many critics to under- 
value the work of intellectual analysis in the reading 
of poetry. It may be that the apprehension of a 
network of logical relations between ideas is one 
thing and that the analysis and clear formulation of 
them is quite another, and that the first may often 
be easy and instantaneous when the second is difficult 
and laborious. This seems likely, and many parallel 
cases can be found. A cricketer, for example, can 
judge a ball without in the least being able to 
describe its flight, or say how or why he meets it as 
he does. Secondly, if, as seems possible, some 
degree of ' dissociation ' occurs in the reading of 
poetry, we may actually, while under the influence of 
the poem, apprehend more than we are able to 
recall when we come to reflect upon it out of the 
' trance ' afterwards. This conjecture, however, 
seems extravagant. Thirdly, the compression of 
poetic language tends to obstruct the discursive 
intelligence that works by spreading ideas out and 
separating their parts. But this very concentration 
may assist immediate, instantaneous, apprehension. 
Nowhere but in poetry, unless in mathematics, do 
we meet with ideas so closely packed together, so 
tightly woven. (See further Appendix A, Note 5.) 

An instance may assist us to keep in touch with 
the observable facts while considering this obscure 
but important matter. The point is worth some 
trouble, for it is cardinal to any account of how 
poetry is read and why misunderstandings both of 
sense and feeling are so common and so difficult to 
avoid. The second line of the last verse of Poem X 
will serve our purpose : 

O frail steel tissue of the sun 

It will be agreed that the sense here is intricate, and 


that when it is analysed out it shows a rational 
correspondence with the feeling which those readers 
who accept the line as one of the felicities of the 
poem may be supposed to have experienced. Let 
me give a fairly detailed analysis, first asking any 
reader who approves of the line to consider how 
much logical structure the sense seems to him to 
have as he reads (not when he reflects). How far 
does this logical structure which appears to him 
while reading seem the source of the feeling of the 
words ? Does it not rather remain in a vague 
background, more a possibility than an actuality ? 

* Tissue ', to begin with the noun, has a double 
sense ; firstly, ' cloth of steel ' in extension from 
' cloth of gold ' or ' cloth of silver ', the cold, metallic, 
inorganic quality of the fabric being perhaps im- 
portant ; secondly, ' thin, soft, semi-transparent ' as 
with tissue-paper. c Steel ' is also present as a sense- 
metaphor of Aristotle's second kind, when the 
transference is from species to genus, steel a particular 
kind of strong material being used to stand for any 
material strong enough to hold together, as it appears, 
the immensity of the cloud-structure. The colour 
suggestion of ' steel ' is also relevant. ' Frail ' echoes 
the semi-transparency of ' tissue ', the diaphanousness, 
and the impending dissolution too. * Of the sun ' it 
may be added runs parallel to * of the silk worm ', 
i.e., produced by the sun. I give such an elaborate 
explanation partly because of the many readers 
(10-42) who had difficulty in making out this line. 

It is safe, perhaps, to affirm that few readers will 
become clearly aware of more than a small part of 
these fibrillar articulations and correspondences of 
the sense until they deliberately question the line and 
think it over. Yet it can be accepted (and, I must 
add, rejected) with certainty and conviction on the 
strength of what seems the merest glimpse of its 
sense. Moreover, a definite and relevant feeling can 


be aroused at once. In fact, a feeling that is quite 
pertinent seems often to precede any clear grasping 
of the sense. And most readers will admit that, as 
a rule, the full sense, analysed and clearly articulated, 
never comes to their consciousness ; yet they may 
get the feeling perfectly. The reception of Poems I 
and V was largely determined by whether the readers 
responded first to sense or to feeling. (Compare 
1-17 and 1-3 ; and 5-81, 5-38 and 5-53. Also 7-43.) 
Still more does all this apply to tone. 

I am far from wishing to quarrel with this sum- 
mary kind of reading when it is practised by highly 
competent readers. A mere glimpse, to the right 
kind of eye, may be amply sufficient, but the dangers 
to those who are less quick and sensitive are obvious. 
Dangers both of a false understanding of the sense 
and of a distorted development of feeling. The 
corrective, in ideal perfection, is equally obvious 
exercise in analysis and cultivation of the habit 
of regarding poetry as capable of explanation. But 
in practice the corrective has its own dangers. It 
has not been enough recognised in schools that 
making a paraphrase or gloss for any poem worth 
reading is a delicate exercise. Recalling some of the 
atrocities which teachers sometimes permit them- 
selves, one is tempted to believe that the remedy 
might be worse than the disease. The risk of 
supposing that the feelings which the logical expansion 
of a poetic phrase excites must be those which the 
phrase was created to convey is very great. We 
easily substitute a bad piece of prose for the poem 
a peculiarly damaging form of attack upon poetry. 
(See p. 191.) Furthermore, we must recognise that 
a single paraphrase will rarely indicate more than 
a single partial aspect of a poem. We often need one 
form of paraphrase to elucidate its sense and quite 
another to suggest its feeling. Since the only cure 
that can be suggested for the general unintelligibility 


of poetry that the protocols exhibit is some more 
enlightened use of interpretation exercises in our 
schools, it is worth while to consider what means 
are available for developing this power of appre- 
hending both sense and feeling in teachers and pupils 
alike. It may be remarked that this is not a matter 
which concerns poetry only, though incapacity, 
obtuseness and failure in discrimination most appear 
through poetry, the most concentrated and delicate 
form of human utterance. 

If we compare our powers of analysing sense and 
feeling we shall recognise at once that feeling, in 
contrast with sense, is a will-o'-the-wisp. We have 
a marvellous apparatus of inter-engaging and over- 
lapping symbols for handling and elucidating sense, 
a logical machine of great sensitiveness and power, 
equipped with automatic safety devices and danger 
signals in the form of contradictions. Logical 
language has even reached such a high state of 
development that it can now be used to improve 
and extend itself, and may in time be made self- 
running and even fool-proof. For handling feeling 
we have nothing at all comparable. We have to rely 
upon introspection, a few clumsy descriptive names 
for emotions, some scores of aesthetic adjectives and 
the indirect resources of poetry, resources at the 
disposal of a few men only, and for them only in 
exceptional hours. Introspection has become a by- 
word, even where intellectual and sensory products 
and processes are concerned, but it is even more 
untrustworthy when applied to feelings. For a 
feeling even more than an idea or an image tends to 
vanish as we turn our introspective attention upon it. 
We have to catch it by the tip of its tail as it decamps. 
Furthermore, even when we are partially successful 
in catching it, we do not yet know how to analyse it. 
Analysis is a matter of separating out its attributes, 
and no one knows yet what attributes a feeling may 


have, what their system of interconnections is, or 
which are important, which trivial. 

This, it may be hoped, matters less than might be 
supposed. For if we had to wait until psychology 
had conquered this territory we might reasonably 
despair. But we shall find encouragement if we 
look more closely into the methods by which we do 
actually in spite of the backwardness of psychology 
contrive to discriminate between feelings, and it 
is not impossible that by so doing we may be able 
to give psychology a leg up. 

We do somehow manage to discuss our feelings, 
sometimes with remarkable facility and success. We 
say things about them sometimes that seem to be 
subtle and recondite, and yet true. We do this in 
spite of our feebleness in introspection and our 
ignorance of the general nature of feelings. How 
do we come to be so knowledgeable and clever ? 
Psychologists have never, I think, resolutely faced 
this question of how we know so much about our- 
selves that does not find any way at present into their 
text-books. Put shortly, the answer seems to be 
that this knowledge is lying dormant in the dictionary. 
Language has become its repository, a record, a 
reflection, as it were, of human nature. 

No one who uses a dictionary for other than 
orthographic purposes can have escaped the shock 
of discovering how very far ahead of us our words 
often are. How subtly they already record dis- 
tinctions towards which we are still groping. And 
many young philologists and grammarians must have 
indulged dreams of bringing some of this wisdom 
into the ordered system of science. If we could read 
this reflection of our minds aright, we might learn 
nearly as much about ourselves as we shall ever wish 
to know ; we should certainly increase enormously 
our power of handling our knowledge. Many of 
the distinctions words convey have been arrived at 


and recorded by methods no single mind could 
apply, complex, methods that are, as yet, not well 
understood. But our understanding of them is 
improving psychology has notably helped here 
and our power of interpreting the psychological 
records embodied in words is increasing and capable 
of immense increase in the future. Among the 
means to this end a combination or co-operation of 
psychology and literary analysis, or criticism, seems 
the most hopeful. Neither alone can do much, both 
together may go far. There is a possibility that 
something parallel to the recent advances in physics 
might be achieved if we could combine them. As 
geology, in the early stages of inquiry into radio- 
activity, came in to supply evidence that experiments 
could not elicit, so the records, hidden not in rocks 
but in words, and accessible only to literary pene- 
tration, may combine 1 with groping psychological 
analysis to produce results as yet unprofitable to 

From these high speculations let us come back 
nearer to the problem of sense and feeling. How 
actually do we enquire into the feeling a word (or 
phrase) carries ? How we inquire into its sense is 
not so difficult to make out. We utter the word or 
phrase and note the thoughts it arouses, being careful 
to keep them in the context of the other thoughts 
aroused by the whole passage. We then attempt, 
by a well recognised and elaborate technique, to 
construct a definition, choosing from among several 
methods to suit our purpose and the situation. If 
we still have any difficulty in distinguishing the 
precise sense, we can put definite questions, we can 
substitute other words which the dictionary will 
supply that in part arouse the same thoughts. We 

1 This inquiry will not be so much a matter of semantics (though 
semantics obviously provide invaluable infotmation) as of a com- 
parative study of the resources (direct and indirect) available in 
different languages and periods for psychological purposes. 


note the samenesses and differences and plot the 
position of the thought we wish to define with regard 
to these other thoughts. 

In these and other ways we exploit the syntactical 
suppleness of language and its overlapping vocabulary 
to disentangle sense, but if we consider how far the 
same resources are available for disentangling feeling 
we find a difference. There is, it is true, a depart- 
ment of language, a certain selection of the dictionary, 
which can be applied in the same fashion. There 
are the names of the emotions and of the emotional 
attitudes anger, fear, joy, sorrow . . . ; hope, sur- 
prise, discouragement, dread. . . . And the derivative l 
adjectives, verbs and adverbs, enthusiastic, passionate, 
tender . . . ; startle, delight, distress . . . ; mourn- 
fully, eagerly, gaily. . . . Moreover, we have the 
special apparatus of the aesthetic or ' projectile ' 
adjectives. We express our feeling by describing 
the object which excites it as splendid, glorious, ugly, 
horrid, lovely, pretty . . . words which really indicate 
not so much the nature of the object as the character 
of our feeling towards it. 2 Thus we obtain an 
indirect notation for our feelings by projecting them 
rather than describing them. But we use this 
notation in a very unsystematic fashion, though a very 
curious and interesting order may be sometimes 
glimpsed behind it. Some of these words, for 
example, may be used together, while others bar one 
another out. A thing may be both grand and 
sublime, it can be glorious and beautiful, or gorgeous 
and ugly ; but it can hardly be both pretty and 
beautiful, it can certainly not be pretty and sublime. 
These accordances and incompatibilities reflect the 
organisation of our feelings, the relations that hold 
between them. But our power to take advantage of 
this linguistic reflection of our emotional constitution 

1 Logically, not grammatically, derivative, of course. 

2 See Appendix A, Note 3. 


is at present very limited perhaps because so little 
work has been done upon this subject. And it is 
when we attempt to describe the difference between 
the feelings which pretty and beautiful express, 
for example, that we discover how unsatisfactory 
are the verbal resources expressly allocated to this 

There is, it is true, a certain apparatus of qualifying 
words and phrases that we use rather speculatively 
and uncertainly to describe feelings. We can say 
of a feeling that it is elevated or gross, or tenuous, or 
calm, or grave, or expansive. Most of these are 
clearly metaphorical expressions, words whose sense 
has not normally anything to do with feeling, trans- 
ferred and applied to feeling on account of some 
glimpsed or supposed character in the feeling 
analogous to a character in the object the word 
usually describes. Sometimes the analogy is close 
fleeting, massive, intense, constricting and our slight 
knowledge of the physiology of emotions may also 
help us here. But often the resemblance or analogy 
is remote and will not bear pressing. It is hard to 
be certain what is being said when a feeling is 
described as profound, or vital. Perhaps very little 
indeed, may be being said. And often, if we look 
closely, the metaphor turns out to be not a prose or 
sense metaphor at all but an emotive metaphor. The 
difference between these is worth some reflection. 1 

A metaphor is a shift, a carrying over of a word 
from its normal use to a new use. In a sense 
metaphor the shift of the word is occasioned and 
justified by a similarity or analogy between the object 
it is usually applied to and the new object. In an 
emotive metaphor the shift occurs through some 
similarity between the feelings the new situation and 
the normal situation arouse. The same word may, 

1 Some further explanations of this distinction will be found in 
Principles, p. 240, and in The Meaning of Meaning, Ch. VI. 


in different contexts, be either a sense or an emotive 
metaphor. If you call a man a swine, for example, 
it may be because his features resemble those of 
a pig, but it may be because you have towards him 
something of the feeling you conventionally have 
towards pigs, or because you propose, if possible, to 
excite those feelings. Both metaphorical shifts may 
be combined simultaneously, and they often are. But 
in studying our methods of describing feelings they 
have to be distinguished. Consider, for example, 
profound, one of the commonest terms by which we 
attempt to describe emotions. When we use it we 
may be doing either of two things, or both together. 
We may be simply inviting from our reader the awed 
respectful feelings he usually has towards other 
things that are said to be profound deep lakes, vast 
chasms in the earth, night, human error, the wisdom 
of sages, and so forth. Often we can obtain this 
respect for our feeling without requiring the reader 
to consider the feeling itself in any fashion, and in 
fact while discouraging investigation. This is the 
simplest type of emotive metaphor. Or we may be 
asking him to recognise that our feeling has in some 
(undefined) way something of the character of other 
profound things that it is not easily explored, for 
example, that it may contain all kinds of things, or 
that it is easy to get lost in it. This is the sense 
metaphor. Usually the two are combined, without 
analysis of either. It is not a very encouraging sign 
of our general intelligence, or of our emotional 
discrimination, that this word has been found 
invaluable by many popular critics and preachers. 
I must take some credit for charity in not citing 
a collection of examples that lies upon my table. 

Most descriptions of feelings, and nearly all subtle 
descriptions, are metaphorical and of the combined 
type. The power to analyse explicitly the ground 
of the transference is not widely possessed in any 


high degree, and it is less exercised both in school- 
training and in general discussion than might be 
wished. A better understanding of metaphor is one 
of the aims which an imposed curriculum of literary 
studies might well set before itself. But a writer 
may use a metaphor and a reader take both its sense 
and feeling correctly without either writer or reader 
being capable of explaining how it works. Such 
explanations are 1 a special branch of the critic's 
business. Conversely, however acute and pene- 
trating a reader may be, it does not follow that he 
will be able to create good metaphorical language 
himself. It is one thing to be able to analyse 
resemblances and analogies when they have first 
been seized and recorded by someone else ; it is 
quite another thing to effect the discovery and 
integration oneself. 

This brings us obviously back to the poet, one of 
whose gifts, ordinarily, is just this command of 
original metaphor. From the technical point of 
view indeed the poet's task is constantly (though not 
only) that of finding ways and means of controlling 
feeling through metaphor. He has to be expert, if 
not in describing feeling, in presenting it, and 
presenting and describing are here rather near 
together. Even in the case of profound, dissected 
above, there was a third possibility. The word 
may instigate in the reader an echo, a shadow- 
semblance of the emotion it describes. He may find 
a sympathetic pulse awaken in his bosom, and feel 
serious, self-conscious and responsible, at grips with 
Destiny. If so, the word may in part have presented 
the feeling as well as described it. Any lively, close, 
realistic thought of an emotion is so apt to revive it 
that most descriptions that are at all concrete or 
intimate, that do succeed in ' putting it before one ', 
also reinstate it. 

Of the two kinds of paraphrasing which, we 



suggested, might be made more use of in our schools 
the one to exhibit the sense of a poem, the other 
to portray its feeling the first requires only an 
intelligent use of the dictionary, logjcal acumen, 
a command of syntax, and pertinacity. The second 
demands qualities of sensitiveness and^imagination, 
the power to use remote experience and to create 
metaphors, gifts which v may seem to belong by 
birthright to the poet alone. It may seem strange 
to suggest that these gifts could be, developed by 
school training, but remembering the original endow- 
ment of average children and comparing it with the 
obtuseness of the sample adult, the proposal (if we 
can guard against some of the dangers hinted at 
above), may not in the end prove to be so unduly 
optimistic. It was partly to shp^v the need and to 
suggest the possibility of improved methods in 
education that my documentation in Part II was 
extended to such length. : 



Beauty and melody have not the arithmetical password, and so are 
barred out. This teaches us that what exact science looks for is not 
entities of some particular category, but entities with a metrical 
aspect. ... It would be no use for beauty, say, to fake up a few 
numerical attributes in the hope of thereby gaining admission into 
the portals of science and carrying on an aesthetic crusade within. 
It would find that the numerical aspects were duly admitted, but 
aesthetic significance of them left outside. 

A. S. EDDINOTON, The Nature of the Physical World. 

THAT the art of responding to the form of poetry is 
not less difficult than the art of grasping its content 
its sense and feeling will be evident to anyone who 
has glanced through Part II. And since half 
perhaps of the feeling that poetry carries comes 
through its form (and through the interaction of 
form and content) the need for better educational 
methods, here also, will be admitted. The condition 
of blank incapacity displayed in 1-161, 3-15, 3-51, in 
half the comments on Poem VI, in 10-61, 11-41, 
12*52 and 13 -61 , to mention but a few salient examples ; 
the desperate efforts to apply the fruits of the 
traditional classical training shown in 3-44, 6-33, 
12-51 and 13-62 ; and the occurrence of such 
divergences as those between 1-14 and 1-141, 2-2 
and 2-61, 4-27 and 4-31, or 9-3 and 9-31, all tell the 
same story. A large proportion of even a picked* 
public neither understand the kind of importance' 
that attaches to the movement of words in verse, 
nor have any just ideas of how to seize this movement 
or judge it. 

It may be objected that just ideas upon a point 

p 225 


admittedly so difficult as the nature of rhythm are 
not easy to attain, that what matters is sensitiveness, 
and that this is a special endowment. But, once 
again, too many young children show an aptitude 
for the reading of poetry and a capacity to seize its 
rhythm, for us to admit that so many adults need 
be so obtuse. Mistaken ideas, and crude uncon- 
sidered assumptions certainly play their part. It 
may be that the best way to learn how verse should 
be spoken is to listen to a good speaker ; but a few 
reasonable ideas upon the matter can certainly 
assist, and without them we remain unnecessarily 
at the mercy of any authoritative mangier of verses 
we may encounter. 

Let us begin with the assumption that the protocols 
show to be most damaging, the notion that regularity 
is the merit of verse. (13-62 and 3-44 will make the 
force of this notion clear to us). It derives very 
largely from the cruder by-products of Classical 
Education. Unless very well taught, Latin verse 
composition is a bad instrument by which to train 
a mind in the appreciation of rhythm. A few very 
brilliant or very rebellious boys escape, but the rest 
receive the impression (often indelible) that good 
verses are simply those that fit a certain framework 
of rules, and that this framework is the measure of 
their rhythmical virtue. Applied to English verse 
the notion meets with a check in the fact that no 
set of rules has been found (or, at least, agreed upon), 
but the efforts of the rival schools of prosodists seem 
all directed towards establishing some set of rules, 
and the general impression that metrical excellence 
lies in regularity is encouraged* and readers who 
have not heard of more refined ideas naturally retain 
this simple notion. ' Irregular ', as we know from 
other contexts, is a word that carries several shades 
of disapprobation. 

But the patent fact that the best verses are fre- 


quently irregular, that almost as often as not they 
fail to conform, however many ' licences ', 'sub- 
stitutions ' and c equivalences ' are introduced into 
the rules of scansion to bring them into line, has 
forced upon many prosodists an improved idea of 
metre. Instead of strict conformity with a pattern, 
an arrangement of departures from and returns to 
the pattern has come to b*e regarded as the secret 
of poetic rhythm. The ear, it has been thought, 
grows tired of strict regularity but delights in 
recognising behind the variations the standard that 
still governs them. 

This conception, though an improvement, is still 
too superficial. I have put it in a language which 
reveals its weakness, for the apprehension of poetic 
rhythm is only partly an affair of the ear. The 
defect of the view is that it regards poetic rhythm 
as a character of the sound of the words apart from 
their effects in the mind of the reader. The rhythm 
is supposed to belong to them and to be the cause 
of these effects. But the difference between good 
rhythm and bad is not simply a difference between 
certain sequences of sounds ; it goes deeper, and to 
understand it we have to take note of the meanings 
of the words as well. 

This point, which is of some practical importance, 
appears clearly if we imagine ourselves reciting verses 
into the ear of an instrument designed to record (by 
curves drawn on squared paper) all the physical 
characters of the sequences of sounds emitted, their 
strength, pitch, durations, and any other features 
we choose to examine. (This is not a fantastic 
suggestion, for such instruments can be arranged 
and begin to be part of the furniture of good phonetic 
laboratories.) The shape of our curves will give us 
a transcription of all the physical rhythms 1 of the 

1 I use the word ' rhythm ; here in the very wide sense of a 
repetitive configuration, i.e., a group of groups such that the several 


verses. Now the view objected to would lead us to 
conclude that verses which are good poetry would show 
some peculiarity l in their curves, that verses which 
are bad poetry could not show. Put in this manner, 
it will be agreed, I hope, that the conclusion is most 
unplausible. But if we say, as many have said, that 
poetic rhythm is a quality of the sound, the sensuous 
form, of words, there is ho means of escaping it. 

Yet it is perfectly true that many great passages of 
poetry do seem to possess, merely as sounds, a peculiar 
undeniable virtue. And it is sometimes suggested 
that a sensitive listener, knowing no Italian, who 
listens to Dante, well read, would be able to dis- 
tinguish the verses of the Divina Comedia from those 
of some skilful but negligible imitator. Their 
superiority in sound, it is said, would reveal them. 
The experiment might be interesting, but it has an 
obvious flaw which makes it inconclusive. The 
reader must be presumed to understand what he is 
reading, and it is likely that what the sensitive listener 
would really discern would be signs, in the reader's 
voice and manner, of the differences due to this 
understanding. For whether a speaker is really 
interested or not in what he is saying, and in what 
fashion, is a point we can be quick to detect. 

How, then, are we to explain this apparent 
superiority in the sound of good poetry if we admit 
that on the recording drum its curves might be 

constituent groups are similar to one another, though not necessarily 
exactly similar. Elsewhere (in Principles of Literary Criticism, 
Ch. XVII) I have used the word in a quite different sense, namely, for 
that dependence of part upon part within a whole which derives x from 
expectation and foresight. This last is not, perhaps, the most natural 
use of the word, but this dependence is, I think, what many people 
who discuss, for example, the rhythm of prose, rhythm in pictures, or 
rhythm in golf, have in mind ; if so, the use is justified. The sense 
here used, on the other hand, allows us to speak of the movements of 
the planets as being rhythmical apart from any mind which observes 

1 Not, of course, a simple, direct similarity of rhythm ; but some 
order or regularity, some relevant peculiar property. 


indistinguishable from those of rubbish. The 
answer is that the rhythm which we admire, which 
we seem to detect actually in the sounds, and which 
we seem to respond to, is something which we only 
ascribe to them and is, actually, a rhythm of the 
mental activity through which we apprehend not 
only the sound of the wgrds but their sense and 
feeling. 1 The mysterious glory which seems to 
inhere in the sound of certain lines is a projection 2 
of the thought and emotion they evoke, and the 
peculiar satisfaction they seem to give to the ear is 
a reflection of the adjustment of our feelings which 
has been momentarily achieved. Those who find 
this a hard saying may be invited to consider anew 
the reception of Poem IV, pp. 55-58 above. 

Such an explanation has this incidental advantage, 
that it accounts for the passionate admiration some- 
times accorded to stray lines that seem of a mediocre 
manufacture. The reader (1-31) who compares 
the exhortations in Poem I to ' wonderful music ' 
serves us excellently as an example (1-145, 1-21 and 
1-3 may also be re-examined). The phenomenon is 
paralleled in all human affairs into which feeling 
enters, and this is no occasion to expatiate upon it. 

But the theory of poetic rhythm as something 
' projected ', ascribed to verses rather than inherent 
in them, must not lead us to wwrfer-estimate the part 
played by the actual sounds. They are a very 
important contributing factor though they do not 
carry the whole responsibility for the rhythm. They 
are the skeleton upon which the reader casts flesh 

1 See Appendix A, Note 4. 

2 Projected in the sense that our pleasure is projected when we 
describe someone as 'pleasant' (to be distinguished from 'pleasing') 
or ugly (to be distinguished from 'causing a loathing'). See 
Appendix A, Note 3. A clear indication that this projection occurs 
in apprehending rhythm is the fact that we can give several alternative 
rhythms to a simple series of stimuli, such as a metronome-beat or the 
ticking of a clock. Many other facts of experiment and observation 
might be brought to support this conclusion. 


and clothing. And if the skeleton is too much out 
of joint, or if it is the skeleton of a whippet, when 
sense and feeling demand that of a cat, no goodwill 
on the part of the reader and no depth of realisation 
of sense and feeling will overcome the disability. 
To see this we have only to change the rhythm of 
any convenient passage of good verse, while preserving 
its vocabulary and, so far as possible, its syntax. 

Whether nobler it is in the mind to suffer 
The arrows and slings of Fortune outrageous. 

The effect is that of comic-opera patter. The sense 
fights in vain to master the form, and its failure gives 
it an inevitable air of frivolity. 

Metrical form, therefore, that is to say the rhythm 
inherent in the sequence of the actual sounds in 
verse, the rhythm that appears in the records of the 
kymograph, is very important. It can easily make 
what might be a good poem into a bad one. But it 
cannot be judged apart from the sense and feeling of 
the words out of which it is composed nor apart from 
the precise order in which that whole of sense and 
feeling builds itself up. The movement or plot of 
the word-by-word development of the poem, as 
a structure of the intellect and emotions, is always, 
in good poetry, in the closest possible relation to the 
movement of the metre, not only giving it its tempo, 
but even distorting it sometimes violently. Readers 
who take up a poem as though it were a bicycle, spot 
its metre, and pedal off on it regardless of where it 
is going, will naturally, if it is a good poem, get into 
trouble. For only a due awareness of its sense and 
feeling will bring its departures from the pattern 
metre into a coherent, satisfying whole. 

The notion that verses must conform to metrical 
patterns was described earlier in this chapter as 
the most damaging enemy to good reading. It is 
a double-edged notion, blindly destructive on both 


sides. It leads, on the one hand, to mechanical 
reading, to a ' cruel forcing ' (3-44) of syllables into 
a mould which they were never meant to fit, and to 
a ruthless lopping away of vocables (cf. 8-44, 12-51, 
13-62), treatment that is fatal to the movement of 
the verse. On the other hand it leads to bitter 
complaints against irregularity and a refusal to enter 
into poems which do not accord smoothly with the 
chosen pattern (8-43). 

Against these unnecessary mistakes it cannot be 
too much insisted that there is no obligation upon 
verses to conform to any standard. The pattern is 
only a convenience, though an invaluable one ; it 
indicates the general movement of the rhythm ; it 
gives a model, a central line, from which variations 
in the movement take their direction and gain an 
added significance ; it gives both poet and reader 
a firm support, a fixed point of orientation in the 
indefinitely vast world of possible rhythms ; it has 
other virtues of a psychological order ; but it has no 
compulsory powers, and there is no good reason 
whatever to accord it them. 

After the conformity notion, its close cousin, the 
notion that poetic rhythm is independent of sense, is 
the most hurtful. It is easy, however, to show how 
much the rhythm we ascribe to words (and even their 
inherent rhythm as sounds) is influenced by our 
apprehension of their meanings. Prepare a few 
phrases with their sounds and inherent rhythms as 
closely alike as possible but with different meanings. 
Then compare for example : 

Deep into a gloomy grot 

Peep into a roomy cot. 

The ascribed rhythm, the movement of the words, 
trivial though it be in both cases, is different, though 
almost every prosodist would have to scan them in 


the same fashion, and the kymograph would, I think, 
for most readers, show few important differences. 1 

Going a step further, if the meaning of the words 
is irrelevant to the form of the verse, and if this 
independent form possesses aesthetic virtue, as not 
a few have maintained (3-6 will do as a specimen) 
it should be possible to take some recognised master- 
piece of poetic rhythm and compose, with nonsense 
syllables, a" double or dummy which at least comes 
recognisably near to possessing the same virtue. 

J. Drootan-Sussting Benn 
Mill-down Leduren N. 

Telamba-taras oderwainto weiring 
Awersey zet bidreen 
Ownd istellester sween 

Lithabian tweet ablissood owdswown stiering 
Apleven aswetsen sestinal 
Yintomen I adaits afurf I gallas Ball. 

If the reader has any difficulty in scanning these 
verses, reference to Milton, On the Morning of 
Christ's Nativity, xv, will prove of assistance, and 
the attempt to divine the movement of the original 
before looking it up will at least show how much the 
sense, syntax, and feeling of verse may serve as an 
introduction to its form. But the illustration will 
also support a subtler argument against anyone who 
affirms that the mere sound of verse has independently 
any considerable aesthetic virtue. For he will either 
have to say that this verse is valuable (when he may 
be implored to take up his pen at once and enrich 
the world with many more such verses, for nothing 
could be easier), or he will have to say that it is the 
differences in sound between this purified dummy and 
the original which deprive the dummy of poetic 
merit. In which case he will have to account for 

1 I am aware that all such experiments are invalidated by the fact 
that some difference in vowel and consonantal sounds is introduced, 
and so the balance of the inherent rhythm is to some degree disturbed, 
but though not persuasive, these experiments seem to me instructive. 


the curious fact that just those transformations which 
redeem it as sound, should also give it the sense and 
feeling we find in Milton. A staggering coincidence, 
unless the meaning were highly relevant to the effect 
of the form. 

Such arguments (which might be elaborated) do 
not tend to diminish the power of the sound (the 
inherent rhythm) when it works in conjunction with 
sense and feeling. The reception of Poem VI (and 
especially 6-32, 6-33) proves both the subtlety and 
the importance of this collaboration. The twofold 
contrasts of 4*23 and 4-24 and 4-25 also admirably 
display the point. The mistake of neglecting sound 
altogether must rank next after the Regularity and 
Independence myths as a source of bad reading. In 
fact the close co-operation of the form with the 
meaning modifying it and being modified by it 
in ways that though subtle are, in general, perfectly 
intelligible is the chief secret of Style in poetry. 
But so much mystery and obscurity has been raised 
around this relation by talk about the identity of 
Form and Content, or about the extirpation of the 
Matter in the Form, that we are in danger of forgetting 
how natural and inevitable their co-operation must be. 

By bad reading I suggest that we should mean 
not so much reading that would offend our sus- 
ceptibilities if we were listening, 1 as reading that 
prevents the reader himself from entering into the 
poem. The sounds most people make when they read 
aloud probably seem very different to their audience 
and to them. The phenomena of ' projection ' are 
noticeable here. We invest our rendering with the 

1 Very unfortunately most of the gramophone records yet available 
must be described as exceedingly bad in both senses. They would 
justify in a sensitive child a permanent aversion from poetry. And 
less sensitive children may pick up habits of 'sentimentalisation ', 
4 emotionality' and exaggeration, very difficult to cure. Some of 
Mr Drinkwater's records, however, point in a better direction and 
deserve honourable mention. 


qualities we wish it to have unless some critical eye 
is cocked upon us and two readings of the same 
poem that sound very different may not, to the 
readers themselves, be after all so unlike. The 
rhythms they ascribe to the poem may be more 
similar than the rhythms they actually succeed in 
giving it. Thus though private reading aloud is 
much to be recommende'd l as an aid in working out 
the form of a poem, it is doubtful whether public- 
reading (in the classroom for example) should be 
encouraged. Nothing more easily defeats the whole 
aim of poetry than to hear it incompetently mouthed 
or to struggle oneself to read out a poem in public 
before it has given up most of its secrets. For to 
read poetry well is extremely difficult. One piece 
of advice which has proved its usefulness may perhaps 
be offered : to remember that we are more likely to 
read too fast than to read too slow. Certainly, if 
the rhythm of a poem is not yet clear to us, a very 
slow private reading gives a better chance for the 
necessary interaction of form and meaning to develop 
than any number of rapid perusals. This simple 
neurological fact, if it could be generally recognised 
and respected, would probably more than anything 
else help to make poetry understood. 

1 Partly because movements of the organs of speech (with muscular 
and tactile images of them) enter into the ascribed sound of words 
almost as much as auditory sensations and images themselves. 



O now when the Bardo of the Dream-State upon me is dawning ! 
Abandoning the inordinate corpse-like sleeping of the sleep of 


May the consciousness undistractedly be kept in its natural state ; 
Grasping the true nature of dreams, may I train myself in the clear 

Light of Miraculous Transformation : 
Acting not like the brutes in slothfulness, 
May the blending of the practising of the sleep state and actual 

experience be highly valued by me. 

Tibetan Prayer^ 

FROM the first two of our ten critical difficulties 
(p. 14) we must pass to a group of more particular, 
less general, obstacles to just discernment. As to 
erratic imagery whether visual imagery or imagery 
of the other senses when the extreme variety of 
human beings in the kinds of imagery they enjoy, 
and the use they make of it, has been realised, little 
need be added to what has already been said a propos 
of Poem X (10-2-10-24) and elsewhere. (Cf. 13-462, 
12-7, 11-22; 9-4-9-48, 9-91, 7-32, 3-7. Also Ap- 
pendix A, Note 5.) With some readers imagery of 
all kinds rightly plays an immensely important part 
in their reading. But they should not be surprised 
that for equally good readers not of the visualising 
or image-producing type images hardly appear, and 
if they appear have no special significance. It may 
seem to the visualisers that the poet works through 
imagery, but this impression is an accident of their 
mental constitution, and people of a different 
constitution have other ways of reaching the same 

1 See W. Y. Evans Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, p. 202. 



Visualisers, however, are exposed to a special 
danger. The vivid and precise images which arise 
before us, owe much of their character and detail to 
sources which are quite outside the poet's control. 
To use them as an important thread in the texture 
of the poem's meaning, or to judge the poem by them, 
is a very risky proceeding. In so far as the meaning 
of the poem has actually embodied itself for us in 
our imagery, and is really reflected therein, we are 
justified, of course. And I would not deny that many 
readers may find their imagery a most sensitive and 
useful index to the meaning. But the merit of the 
poem is not in the imagery. To put the error in 
its cruder form : a poem which calls up a * beautiful 
picture ' is not thereby proved to be a good poem. 

The detail, especially, of most readers' imagery is 
likely to be irrelevant, to depend upon circumstances 
only by accident connected with the meaning of the 
poem ; the general character of the imagery and its 
feeling may be more significant. We ought to be 
very wary in discussing such a point, for the threads 
of relevant connection which the poem may touch, 
as it enters now into one, now into another of the 
vast reservoirs of experience in different readers' 
minds, are too various, complex and subtle for any 
external observer to trace. In this sense there is far 
more in any poem than any one reader can discover. 
A quality in an image which seems to one reader 
quite beside the point may be an essential item to 
another. Those whose experience comes to them 
chiefly through their eyes may rightly attach extreme 
importance to nuances in their imagery. None the 
less, in less sensitive and more chaotic visualisers, 
imagery is a frequent occasion for irrelevance. 

We shall understand the situation better if we 
consider some other instances of irrelevance, for the 
problem of the intrusion of what is not germane to 
the meaning is a general one. Examples in plenty 


will have been noticed in the protocols, and we may 
resurvey a few of them with advantage. The 
simplest case is where some particular memory of 
the reader's personal biography is recalled, and his 
response to the poem becomes largely a response to 
this reminiscence. The * tinkling piano ' association 
of 8- 1 1 belongs here. It is^ not hard to imagine the 
sounds which the poem recalled to this reader's 
mind, nor (if we read ' execrating ' as a portmanteaux- 
word for ' excruciating ' and ' execrable ') difficult to 
sympathise with him. But his association fails to 
illustrate the poem as evidently as the odder associa- 
tions of 8-21. More doubt may be felt about the 
thunder-storm association of 12-1. It must surely 
be this, for clouds, however * heavy J , will not 
otherwise be heard to * rumble '. But there is, it 
may be thought, something oppressive and thundery 
about the feeling of Poem XII. The cathedral 
associations of Poem VII ', on the other hand, were 
clearly relevant (7* 54-7*56), and may be sharply 
contrasted with the pine-wood phantasy of 7-57. 

Slightly more complicated are these instances where 
it is a train of thought, not a memory, that intrudes. 
The home-sickness of 10-1, the opinions on the 
musical qualities of hymns (8-2) and on the proper 
use of music (8-12, 8-32), the historical background 
of 9-111 and the politics of 9*15, betray themselves 
as having nothing to do with the matter, but it is not 
so easy to decide about the War Memorial (7-43) or 
Joanna Southcott's gladstone-bag (13*5). The as- 
sociated train of ideas may be merely an ignis fatuus, 
or a flash of inspiration. Everything depends upon 
how essential the bond of thought or feeling may be 
that links it with the poem. We have to ask whether 
it really springs from the meaning 1 or whether it is 

1 I may remind the reader that, here and elsewhere when I use the 
word ' meaning', all the four kinds of meaning discussed in Chapter I 
are referred to. 


an accidental by-product of a reading which does 
not realise the meaning ; whether the train of 
association has at least started right and is rooted in 
something essential, and whether or not accidents of 
the individual reader's mood or history or tempera- 
ment have twisted it. 

A special case which well illustrates the general 
situation occurs when what is thought of is some 
other poem. If it is another poem by the same 
author the association is likely to be relevant ; but 
if the title, the subject, or some similarity of a single 
phrase is responsible, the dangers of aberration are 
obvious. Something has already been said about 
them in connection with the introduction of Keats 
into the discussion of Poem V (5*32, 5*34), and the 
effect of Shelley on Poem X (10-47, 10-48, 10-62, also 
Ch. II, p. 201). Only the very closest and most 
sensitive reading will show whether two poems 
really have anything that matters in common, and 
such superficial resemblances as may be picked up in 
cursory reading prove nothing unless we can trace 
them deeper. The great services that comparisons 
so often render come from the assistance they can 
give to closer reading, and the greatest possible 
difference may be as useful as the closest similarity 
in shaking our minds out of the routine of expecta- 
tion. But direct comparisons based upon the 
supposition that poems can be classified by their 
themes, or metres, for example and that poems 
in the same class (cloud poems, immortal-beauty 
poems, graveyard poems, sonnets, and so forth ,, . .) 
must be alike, can only serve to exhibit stupid 
reading. As with other associations, the quality of 
the link (the depth of its grounds in the inner nature 
and structure of the associated things) is the measure 
of its relevance. 

Often, of course, an association with another 
poem will be no more than a means by which a 


reader defines, for himself or for others, the kind of 
feeling the poem evokes in him. This is perhaps 
what is happening in 1-193 and in 11-4. Such 
comparisons do not so much influence the reader's 
judgment pf the poem as reflect it, but with most of the 
associations we are concerned with here, the association 
becomes clearly a contributing factor to the poem. 

The most flagrant cases of irrelevance come from 
the intrusion into the poem of the hobby-horse or 
the obsession. The unlucky lover (6-36), the victim 
of parental advice (6-37), and the victim of circum- 
stances (6-38) provide hardly less clear examples 
than the symbolist (12-11), the indignant moralist 
(8-41), or the educational reformer (10-11). What 
stray reminiscence prompted this last is a point that 
should be not uninteresting to teachers. 

The personal situation of the reader inevitably (and 
within limits rightly) affects his reading, and many 
more are drawn to poetry in quest of some reflection 
of their latest emotional crisis than would admit it 
if faced with such a frank declaration as that in 11-2. 
Though it has been fashionable in deference to 
sundry confused doctrines of ' pure art ' and ' im- 
personal aesthetic emotions ' to deplore such a state 
of affairs, there is really no occasion. For a com- 
parison of the feelings active in a poem with some 
personal feeling still present in the reader's lively 
recollection does give a standard, a test for reality. 
The dangers are that the recollected feelings may 
overwhelm and distort the poem and that the reader 
may forget that the evocation of somewhat similar 
feelings is probably only a part of the poem's 
endeavour. It exists perhaps to control and order 
such feelings and to bring them into relation with 
other things, not merely to arouse them. But 
a touchstone for reality is so valuable, and factitious 
or conventional feelings so common, that these 
dangers are worth risking. 


Thus memories, whether of emotional crises or of 
scenes visited or incidents observed, are not to be 
hastily excluded as mere personal intrusions. That 
they are personal is nothing against them all 
experience is personal the only conditions are that 
they must be genuine and relevant, and must respect 
the liberty and autonomy of the poem. Genuine 
memories, for example, of ' the most moving mani- 
festations of nature ' and ' its loveliest and grandest 
aspects ' (9-9 and 9-91), if they were compared with 
what the poem contained, would have influenced the 
opinions there expressed of Poem IX. It is the 
absence of such memories that allows a word like 
* glittering ' to pass unchallenged in the last line but 
one of the poem. At a moment when accuracy and 
verisimilitude in description are important, appears 
a word completely false to the appearances that are 
being described. Mountains that are * surging away 
into the sunset glow ' do not glitter ; they cannot, 
unless the sun (or moon) is fairly high in the heavens. 
But * glittering ' is a stock epithet for icy mountains. 
With this we are brought to the important, neglected 
and curious topic of Stock Responses. 

So much that passes for poetry is written, and so 
much reading of even the most original poetry is 
governed, by these fixed conventionalised reactions 
that their natural history will repay investigation. 
Their intervention, moreover, in all forms of human 
activity in business, in personal relationships, in 
public affairs, in Courts of Justice will be recog- 
nised, and any light which the study of poetry may 
throw upon their causes, their services, their dis- 
advantages, and on the ways in which they may be 
overcome, should be generally welcome. 

A stock response, like a stock line in shoes or hats, 
may be a convenience. Being ready-made, it is 
available with less trouble than if it had to be specially 
made out of raw or partially prepared materials. 


And unless an awkward misfit is going to occur, we 
may agree that stock responses are much better than 
no responses at all. Indeed, an extensive repertory 
of stock responses is a necessity. Few minds could 
prosper if they had to work out an original, * made 
to measure ' response to meet every situation that 
arose their supplies of mental energy would be too 
soon exhausted and the wear and tear on their 
nervous systems would be too great. Clearly there 
is an enormous field of conventional activity over 
which acquired, stereotyped, habitual responses 
properly rule, and the only question that needs 
to be examined as to these responses is whether they 
are the best that practical exigencies the range of 
probable situations that may arise, the necessity of 
quick availability and so forth will allow. But 
equally clearly there are in most lives fields of 
activity in which stock responses, if they intervene, 
are disadvantageous and even dangerous, because they 
may get in the way of, and prevent, a response more 
appropriate to the situation. These unnecessary 
misfits may be remarked at almost every stage of the 
reading of poetry, but they are especially noticeable 
when emotional responses are in question. Let us 
survey a few examples to show the range of incidence 
of this disorder before attempting to analyse its 
causes. We may then inquire whether it is inevitable, 
to what extent and by what means it might be avoided. 
At the humbler end of the scale, those readers 
who were barred out from Poem II through their 
stock response to ' cool, green house ', and those 
betrayed by the monarch in Poem IX, show the 
mechanism of the mistake very clearly. The ordinary 
meaning, the automatic, habitual interpretation, steps 
in too quickly for the context of the rest of the poem 
to make its peculiarities effective. Similarly, when it 
is a larger body of ideas that intrudes the religious 
and anti-religious prejudices of 7-2 and 7-21, the 


political leanings of 9-14 and 9*15, the R.S.P.C.C. 
zeal of io- n, all tell the same story, but they show 
something further. An * idea ', as we are using the 
term here, is not a merely passive item of conscious- 
ness, dragged up by the pull of blind forces at the 
mercy of routine laws of association. It is rather an 
active system of feelings and tendencies which may 
be pictured as always straining to appear and ready 
to seize any opportunity of disporting itself. We 
shall not understand the phenomena of stock 
responses unless we regard them as energy systems 
which have the right of entry, unless some other 
system of greater energy can bar them out or perhaps 
drain their energy away from them. Fundamentally, 
though this is an unfair way of putting it, when any 
person misreads a poem it is because, as he is at that 
moment y he wants to. The interpretation he puts 
upon the words is the most agile and the most active 
among several interpretations that are within the 
possibilities of his mind. Every interpretation is 
motivated by some interest, and the idea that appears 
is the sign of these interests that are its unseen masters. 
When the interest is unusual in kind and its distorting 
effect large and evident, as in 10-11, we readily 
admit that this is so. With stock responses where 
the dominating interest is excessively ordinary and 
no distortion may result we are more likely to 
overlook this ' energetic ' aspect of ideas, but to 
remember it is the key to the whole matter. 

The principle that it is the most ' attractive ' 
reading which is adopted is often disguised, and may 
seem to be contradicted, for example, when a reader 
says that he would like to read a poem in a certain 
way and regrets that he cannot. But there a major 
interest his desire to read faithfully has over- 
reached and controlled a more local interest. It is 
to be feared that this major interest is too often 
dormant, and the need for its watchful control too 


little realised. In its place an initial prepossession, 
the desire to find grounds for approval (or con- 
demnation) a desire arising well ahead of any 
adequate justification frequently takes charge of the 
whole process. 

A stock rhythm can be imported quite as easily 
as a stock idea, as we have, seen (8-41) ; and if we 
could listen to the readings of the protocol writers 
it is probable that we should notice this often, but 
whether distortions equal to that in 3-15 are common 
may be doubted. 

In the cases so far cited the stock response inter- 
venes to distort a passage whose more adequate 
reading develops otherwise. To the same group 
belong 5-37, 5*38 and 5-4 (where more traditional 
notions than those really present in the poem are 
responsible for the effects recorded), 8-3-8-33 (where 
the poet is modifying conventional feelings, but his 
readers refuse to let him change them), and 13-1-13-4 
(where several different stock sentiments replace the 
poem and bring discredit upon it). But the stock 
response can interfere in other ways. In 12-5 it is 
the difference between the poem and the stock poem 
the reader has in his mind that is the objection. 
Similarly in 10-44 and 11*43, deviation in the one 
case from a stock image of a cloud, in the other from 
a stock notion of an epitaph is the ground of 
complaint. This type of adverse criticism, objection 
brought to a poem for not being quite a different 
poem, without regard paid to what it is as itself, 
ought to be less common. Poets are often guilty of 
it towards one another, but they have some excuse, 
since absorption in one kind of aim may well make 
a man blind to other aims. Intelligent critics, 
however, who realise that no poem can be judged by 
standards external to itself, have no excuse. Yet 
few original poems have escaped general abuse for 
not being more like other poems which proves 


how hard the task of being intelligent and a 
critic is. 

But a much more subtle situation involving stock 
responses remains to be discussed. Here instead 
of distorting the poem or of setting up an irrelevant 
external standard the stock response actually is in 
the poem. Poems I, IV, VII and IX, with some 
differences in level and degree, I believe illustrate 
this condition of affairs. The most correct reading 
of them, the reading which most accords with the 
impulses that gave them being, is in each case, unless 
I am mistaken, such that every item and every strand 
of meaning, every cadence and every least movement 
of the form is fatally and irrevocably familiar to 
anyone with any acquaintance with English poetry. 
Furthermore this familiarity is not of the kind which 
passages of great poetry ever acquire, however often 
we may read them or however much we have them 
by heart. We may be weary to death of ' To be or 
not to be . . . ', but we still know that if we were to 
attend to it again it could surprise us once more. 
The familiarity of these poems belongs to them as 
we first read them, it is not an acquired familiarity 
but native. And it implies, I think, that the mental 
movements out of which they are composed have 
long been parts of our intellectual and emotional 
repertory and that these movements are few and simple 
and arranged in an obvious order. In other words the 
familiarity is a sign of their facility as stock responses. 

There is a contributory reason for taking this 
view. The more we examine the detail of these 
poems the more we shall notice, I believe, their 
extreme impersonality the absence of any personal 
individual character either in their movement as 
verse or in their phrasing. The only touches of 
character that anyone can point to are the echoes of 
other poets. Each of them might well have been 
written by a committee. This characterlessness 


appears very plainly if we compare 1 them with 
Donne's Sonnet, where there are hardly seven words 
together anywhere which have not a peculiar personal 
twist. Such impersonality, like the familiarity, is 
a sign that they are composed of stock responses. 
In addition it will be recalled that these poems 
(with the exception of the fii^t line of Poem IX) were 
rather oddly immune from serious misunderstanding. 
With this point in view I included all the examples 
of misreading that occurred. 

Such stock poems are frequently very popular. 
They come home to a majority of readers with 
a minimum of trouble, for no new outlook, no new 
direction of feeling, is required. On the other 
hand, as we have seen, readers who have become 
more exigent often grow very indignant, the degree 
of their indignation being sometimes a measure, it 
may appear, of the distance they have themselves 
moved from the stock response and the recency of 
the development. But such cynical reflections are 
not always in place here, for these responses must 
evidently be judged by two partially independent 
sets of considerations their appropriateness to the 
situations to which they reply, and the degree in 
which they hinder more appropriate responses from 
developing. There are clearly stock responses which 
are in both ways admirable they are right as far 
as they go, reasonably adequate to their situations, 
and they assist rather than prevent further, more 
refined, developments. On the other hand, no one 
with the necessary experience will doubt that 
inappropriate stock responses are common and that 
they are powerful enemies to poetry. Some of the 
differences in origin between good and bad responses 
are therefore worth tracing. 

1 Such a comparison is not an introduction of an external standard : 
it is merely a means of bringing out more clearly a feature of the 
poems which might escape us. 


If we consider how responses in general are formed, 
we shall see that the chief cause of ill-appropriate, 
stereotyped reactions is withdrawal from experience. 
This can come about in many ways. Physically, as 
when a London child grows up without ever seeing 
the country or the sea ; morally, as when a parti- 
cularly heavy parent deprives a child of all the 
adventurous expansive side of life ; through con- 
vention and inculcation, as when a child, being too 
easily persuaded what to think and to feel, develops 
parasitically ; intellectually, as when insufficient 
experience is theoretically elaborated into a system 
that hides the real world from us. 

These last two cases are the more interesting for 
our purpose here, though the effects of sheer 
ignorance and of such moral disasters as produce 
timidity are not to be overlooked. But more often, 
perhaps, it is a too loose and easy growth in our 
responses that leads to premature fixation. Ideas, 
handed to us by others or produced from within, are 
a beguiling substitute for actual experience in 
evoking and developing our responses. An idea 
of soldiers for example can stay the same through 
innumerable repetitions ; our experience of actual 
soldiers may distressingly vary. The idea, as a rule, 
presents one aspect ; the actual things may present 
many. We can call up our idea by the mere use 
of a word. And even in the presence of the Army 
it. is by no means certain that what we perceive will 
not be as much our idea as the soldiers themselves. 
Since a response becomes firmer through exercise, 
it is clear that those among our responses that are 
early hitched to an idea, rather than to the actual 
particularities of the object, gain a great advantage 
in their struggle for survival. It behoves us, there- 
fore, to consider very carefully what kinds of things 
these ideas are, how we come by them and to what 
extent they can be trusted. 


An idea, in the sense we are using here, is a 
representation 1 but it is both very much less and 
very much more than a mental replica or copy of the 
thing it represents. It is less, because even the most 
elaborate idea falls short of the complexity of its 
object, is a sketch that is incomplete and probably 
distorts. It is more than a replica because besides 
representing the object it Represents (in a different 
sense) our interest in the object. We can all observe 
that our idea of an acquaintance, for example, is 
a compromise. It reflects in part his actual qualities, 
some of them ; but it also reflects our feelings 
towards him, our tendencies to act in one way or 
another towards him, and these, as we well know, 
are governed not by his real qualities only as though 
we were impartial deities but by our needs, desires, 
habits and the rest. The example is typical. Pure 
ideas, that reflect only features of the object, are to 
be found only in some of the sciences where 
centuries of careful testing have reduced the effects 
of our partiality to a minimum. All our ordinary 
ideas about objects that matter to us, that are, as we 
say, interesting, are coloured by our emotional and 
practical relations to them. We can hardly help 
thinking that our nation, for example, is, on the whole, 
the best. Naturally enough, we are usually blind 
to this subjective colouring and our quickness to 
detect bias in other people rarely makes us ponder 
long upon our own. This is one of the reasons for 
thinking that Part II may be useful, for to imagine 
that a mirror stands between us and other people is 
certainly the most reliable means of studying 

1 Whether the mental representative is an image more or less like 
the object representedor a word, or some other more mysterious 
kind of event in the mind, we need not discuss here. As a rule it is 
probably this latter. The author's opinions upon these matters will 
be found in The Meaning of Meaning and, more summarily, in 
Principles of Literary Criticism. See also Appendix A, Note 5. 


We come by our ideas in three main fashions : by 

direct interaction with the things they represent, 

that is, by experience ; by suggestion from other 

people ; and by our own intellectual elaboration. 

Suggestion and elaboration have their evident dangers, 

but are indispensable means of increasing our range 

of ideas. It is necessary in practice to acquire ideas 

a great deal faster than r we can possibly gain the 

corresponding experience, and suggestibility and 

elaboration though we must make them responsible 

for our stock responses, are after all the capacities 

that divide us from the brutes. Suggestion, working 

primarily through language, hands down to us both 

a good and an evil heritage. Nine-tenths, at the least, 

of the ideas and the annexed emotional responses 

that are passed on by the cinema, the press, friends 

and relatives, teachers, the clergy . . . to an average 

child of this century are judged by the standards 

of poetry crude and vague rather than subtle or 

appropriate. But the very processes by which they 

are transmitted explain the result. Those who hand 

them on received them from their fellows. And 

there is always a loss in transmission which becomes 

more serious in proportion as what is transmitted 

is new, delicate and subtle, or departs in any way 

from what is expected. Ideas and responses which 

cost too much labour both at the distributing end 

and at the reception end both for writer and 

reader are not practicable, as every journalist 

knows. The economics of the profession do not 

permit their transmission ; and in any case it would 

be absurd to ask a million tired readers to sit down 

and work. It is hard enough to get thirty tired 

children to sit up, behave and look bright. 

A very simple application of the theory of com- 
munication shows, then, that any very widespread 
diffusion of ideas and responses tends towards 
standardisation, towards a levelling down. But, as 


we have already agreed, any responses that work, 
even badly, are better than none. Once the basic 
level has been reached, a slow climb back may be 
possible. That at least is a hope that may be 
reasonably entertained. Meanwhile the threat to 
poetry in this state of affairs must be recognised. 
As our chief means by which subtle ideas and 
responses may be communicated, poetry may have 
a part to play in the climb back. It is, at least, the 
most important repository of our standards. 

We have still to consider the other influence which 
encourages in the individual the fixation of inappro- 
priate responses speculative elaboration divorced from 
experience. Thinking in the sense of a thorough 
attempt to compare all the aspects of an object or 
situation, to analyse its parts, to reconcile one with 
another all its various implications, to order it in one 
coherent intellectual fabric with everything else we 
know about everything connected with it is an 
arduous and not immediately profitable occupation. 
Accordingly, outside the scientific professions and 
endowed institutions and even within them, it is 
much less practised than we conventionally suppose. 

What we usually describe as thinking is a much 
more attractive mental exercise ; it consists in 
following out a train of ideas, a process which affords 
us most of the pleasures of thinking, in the stricter 
sense, without its pains and bewilderments. Such 
trains of associations may, and in the minds of men 
of genius often do, lead to new and valuable ideas. 
But accidents apart the condition for this happy 
result is a wide available background of relevant 
experience. The valuable idea is, in fact, the 
meeting-point, the link between separate parts of 
this field of experience. It unites aspects of existence 
that ordinarily remain unconnected, and in this lies 
its value. The secret of genius is perhaps nothing 
else than this greater availability of all experience 


coupled with larger stores of experience to draw 
upon. The man of genius seems to take in more 
every minute than his duller companion, and what he 
has received seems to be more readily at his disposal 
when he needs it. This obvious description of 
Shakespeare seems to apply in lesser degree to other 
good poets. 

The man of less end&wment (I am incidentally 
describing many bad poets) attempting a similar 
achievement with less experience and with what 
experience he has less available, 1 is likely to arrive 
at merely arbitrary results. Lacking the control 
of a many-sided, still active, past experience, his 
momentary tendencies, desires, and impulses shape 
and settle his conclusions for him, and it is more 
likely to be the attractiveness of the idea (in the light 
of some particular desire) than its relevance that 
causes it to be adopted. It might be thought that 
the test of subsequent experience would lead such 
a man to abandon or correct the inappropriate ideas 
and responses he arrives at in this arbitrary fashion. 
So it does in many practical matters. We all know 
enthusiasts who constantly have their unreal hopes 
and projects dashed to th ground. But attitudes 
and responses of the kinds with which poetry is 
likely to be concerned unfortunately escape this 
corrective test. The erratic individual cannot him- 
self see that his responses are inappropriate, though 
others might tell him. When he misreads a poem, 
no practical consequences arise to teach him his 
folly ; and, similarly, if he mismanages his emotional 
relations with his fellow-beings he can readily per- 
suade himself that they are at fault. I have been 
describing a type of reader familiar to every teacher 
concerned with poetry whose interpretations have 

1 If we ask why one man's past experience should be less available 
to him than another man's, and so less useful to him in guiding his 
desires and thoughts, the answer must be given in terms of inhibitions. 
See Chapter VI, 


a quality of wilful silliness which matches well the 
obstinacy and conceit that are the primary traits of 
the character. Often considerable mental agility is 
shown, enough to support an affectation of 
* brilliance ', but in time a striking monotony, a 
repetition of the same forms of response is equally 
apparent. Though fundamentally some disorder of 
the self-regarding sentiment l a belated Narcissism, 
perhaps must be at the root of these afflicting 
phenomena, their approximate cause is certainly 
withdrawal from experience through the day-dream 
habit. And since milder forms of this condition 
seem a very frequent cause of erratic reading (cf. 
2-2, 6-4, 6-5, 7-38, 8-4, 8-45, 9-111, io-ii, 10-6, 
11-33, 12-41, 13-51) it seemed worth while to attempt 
a rough analysis. But on the whole the charactero- 
logical aspects of the protocols will have to be 

Enough perhaps as to some of the causes of stock 
inappropriate responses, whether of the standardised, 
or the personal- whimsy, type. The only corrective 
in all cases must be a closer contact with reality, 
either directly, through ^experience of actual things, 
or mediately through other minds which are in closer 
contact. If good poetry owes its value in a large 
measure to the closeness of its contact with reality, 
it may thereby become a powerful weapon for 
breaking up unreal ideas and responses. Bad poetry 
certainly can be their very helpful guardian and ally. 

1 Cf. the opening lines of Part II of Pope's Essay on Criticism. 

Of all the causes which conspire to blind 

Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, 

What the weak head with strongest bias rules ; 

Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. 

Whatever nature has in worth denied 

She gives in large recruits of needful pride ! 

For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find 

What wants in blood or spirits, swcll'd with wind. . . 

Trust not yourself; but, your defects to kno\v, 

Make use of every friend and every foe. 

The last couplet may perhaps be taken to indicate one piece of profit 
that may be drawn from study of the protocols. 


But even the best poetry, if we read into it just what 
we happen to have already in our minds, and do not 
use it as a means for reorganising ourselves, does 
less good than harm. 

Most good poetry, of course, resists this kind of 
misusage, but often the emotional and intellectual 
habits of the readers are too strong for the poet. 
Moreover, the official cfoctrine of the eighteenth 
century that 

True wit is nature to advantage dress 'd, 

What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd. 

is still firmly entrenched in many minds. The notion 
that all that a poet can do is to put strikingly, or 
nicely, or elaborately, or euphoniously, ideas and 
feelings that we already possess, is so serious and 
frequent an obstacle to good reading, that I need 
not apologise for quoting from a letter I received 
from one of the protocol writers at about this stage 
in my discussion : 

* Although interested in the remarks you made 
yesterday, I could not help feeling that your talk 
about " Stock Responses " was somewhat obscure 
and misleading. . . . The truth of the matter is, 
I think, that every poem calls up stock responses, 
but bad poetry is poetry which touches us super- 
ficially and leads us to take the response for 
granted. Thus in reading Gray's Elegy we are 
prepared to have certain feelings about life and 
death stirred up within us. Nor are we dis- 
appointed, for we find at the end of the poem 
that we have genuinely been moved as we expected, 
and the stock response to Churchyard scenery has 
been drawn out of us, as it were, and given a 
chance to expatiate. But in Poem XIII on your 
sheet, the process is different. We expect 1 the 

1 Compare Seami Motokiyo on one of the 'secrets' of the No 
'The "flower" consists in forcing on the audience an emotion which 
they do not expect.' Waley, The No Plays of Japan, p. 47. 


stock responses to thoughts on Death to be drawn 
out, but in reality they are not, since the poet does 
not touch us deeply enough to do so. However 
we take the drawing-out of these responses for 
granted, and it is not until we read the poem 
through a second or third time that we find we 
have been deceived '. 

My correspondent's account does peculiarly fit the 
Elegy of which Dr Johnson well wrote : * The Church- 
yard abounds with images which find a mirror in 
every mind, and with sentiments to which every 
bosom returns an echo ', though it is doubtful whether 
* mirror * is a word which the lexicographer would, 
on reflection, have here retained. The Elegy is per- 
haps the best example in English of a good poem 
built upon a foundation of stock responses. These 
responses are of the kind which we granted 
indeed insisted above, may be admirable, perfectly 
appropriate as far as they go and no hindrance to 
responses which may go further. But these stock 
responses do not exhaust * the Elegy ; though its 
extreme familiarity may blind us to the peculiarities 
of tone and sequence of feeling that it contains 
the qualities in the poem that belong to Gray, not to 
the common stock from which it develops. And we 
have only to open Hardy's poems at almost any page 
to discover that besides ' the stock response to 
Churchyard scenery ' there are many other possible 
responses. Furthermore, as with other good poems 
so even with the Elegy , the interpretations of good 
readers will vary appreciably with their varied minds. 
No one can say, ' There is only this and this in 
the poem and nothing more '. There is everything 

l All that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave 
Awaits alike the inevitable hour. 

Between the stock response to these lines which may be rendered by 
4 How sad ! ' and the response of Gautama Buddha, there is evidently 
room for many other responses, some of a stock pattern and some not. 


there which a reader who starts right and keeps in 
a balanced contact with reality can find. But minds 
too much subjugated to their own fixed stock 
responses will find nothing new, will only enact once 
more pieces from their existing repertory. Better 
this than nothing perhaps. The shock of dis- 
covering how alive with new aspects everything 
whatever is when contact with reality is restored is 
anaesthetising to minds that have lost their capacity 
to reorganise themselves ; it stupefies and bewilders. 
Nearly all good poetry is disconcerting, for a moment 
at least, when we first see it for what it is. Some 
dear habit has to be abandoned if we are to follow it. 
Going forwards we are likely to find that other 
habitual responses, not directly concerned, seem less 
satisfactory. In the turmoil of disturbed routines 
that may ensue, the mind's hold on actuality is tested. 
Great poetry, indeed, is not so safe a toy as the con- 
ventional view supposes. But these indirect effects 
of the overthrow of even a few stock attitudes and 
ideas is the hope of those who think humanity may 
venture to improve itself. And the belief that on 
the whole and accidents apart finer, subtler, more 
appropriate responses are more efficient, economical, 
and advantageous than crude ones, is the best ground 
for a moderate optimism that the world-picture 




May the tears of sympathy crystallise as they fall and be worn as 
pearls in the bosom of our affections. 

Nineteenth Century Commercial Travellers Toast. 

AMONG the politer terms of abuse there are few so 
effective as ' sentimental '. Not very long ago the 
word ' silly ' was fairly useful for this purpose. The 
most intelligent would wince, the less intelligent 
would become angry, and the stupid would grow 
indignant if they, or views dear to their hearts, were 
so described the three shades of feeling corre- 
sponding perhaps to a suspicion, a fear, and an 
absolute certainty as to there not being something in 
it. But since Bergsonism began its insidious dry- 
rot-like invasion of contemporary intellectualism the 
word * silly ' has lost some of its sting. Nowadays 
the accusation of sentimentality is more annoying 
than any slur cast upon our capacity as thinkers, for 
our moral capital is invested in our feelings rather 
than in our thoughts. 

The very fact that it is so annoying suggests that 
' sentimental ' though often it may mean something 
precise and capable of definition may be also, like 
an insulting gesture, the vehicle of another kind of 
utterance ; that it is sometimes not so much the 
instrument of a statement as an expression of con- 
tempt. Such an expression cannot, of course, be 
defined as though it were a scientific term. Given 
the occasion and the speakers we can describe the 
feelings the word excites and the attitudes from 



which it springs. But there we have to leave the 
matter. And * sentimental rubbish ' is doubtless 
more often than not a mere phrase of abuse. Com- 
pare the phrase * damn nonsense \ The logician or 
the expert in definitions would waste his time trying 
to assign a precise scope to the adjective in either case. 

But ' sentimental ' may be more than a piece of 
abuse, an emotive gesture. It may be a description, 
may stand for a vague idea, or for any one of several 
precise ideas ; and two of these are extremely 
important. So important that there is no need to be 
surprised if * sentimental ' is one of the most over- 
worked words in the whole vocabulary of literary 
criticism. Its frequency, its twofold use, as an 
insult and as a description, its fogginess in the second 
capacity and its social significance in the first are all 
sufficiently evidenced in the protocols. Poems IV 
and VIII and, to a lesser degree, Poems II and XIII 
provide us with our most instructive examples. But 
before examining these in detail we must attempt 
some definitions and elucidations. 

Setting aside the abusive use of ' sentimental ' as 
a mere gesture indicating little more than dislike, let 
us reflect first upon the vaguer senses of the word. 
We often use it to say only that there is something 
wrong in the feelings involved by the thing, whatever 
it is, which we call sentimental. And we do not 
attempt to specify what is wrong. Using a vague 
thought like this has been happily compared by 
Bertrand Russell to aiming at a target with a lump 
of putty. The putty spreads out, and we have 
a good chance of bespattering the bull's-eye with 
some of it. But it will spread over the rings too. 
A precise thought is more like a bullet. We can 
perhaps hit with it just what we want to hit and 
nothing else, but we are much more likely to miss 
altogether. Vague thoughts are best sometimes ; 
they economise labour and are easier to follow, they 


have their obvious uses in* poetry ; but for this 
purpose we need more precise ones. 

The first of these is easy to state. A person may 
be said to be sentimental when his emotions are too 
easily stirred, too light on the trigger. As we all 
know to our cost the trigger adjustment for the 
feelings varies with all manner of odd circumstances. 
Drugs, the weather, ' the l5rave music of a distant 
drum ', fatigue, illness these and many other ex- 
traneous factors can make our emotions too facile. 
The lover of the bottle in his maudlin stage is 
a famous sentimentalist. Certain rhythms as in 
the case of the brass band above mentioned and 
sounds of a certain quality, perhaps through their 
associations the trumpet and the nightingale, for 
example all these readily facilitate emotional orgies. 
So do certain conditions of mass suggestion. Re- 
unions, processions ; we often have to blush for our 
sentimentality when we escape from the crowd. 
Most remarkable of all, perhaps, are some effects of 
illness. I reluctantly recall that the last time I had 
influenza a very stupid novel filled my eyes with 
tears again and again until I could not see the pages. 
Influenza is thought by many to be a disorder of the 
autonomic nervous system, and if this be so, there 
would be nothing surprising in this effect. All our 
emotional susceptibilities may be more or less 
affected, but the results are most marked with those 
which we can luxuriate in, those which do not 
obviously endanger our self-esteem. 

This last factor is one in which individuals vary 
amazingly. Some people regard indulgence in the 
soft and tender emotions as always creditable, and 
they wallow in them so greedily that one is forced 
to regard them as emotionally starved. Others are 
apt to think about these emotions as Alexander Bain, 
the once celebrated author of The Emotions and the 
Will y thought about kissing (he called it osculation). 


" The occasion ", he said, " should be adequate and 
the actuality rare ". 

But what is this adequate occasion and what makes 
it adequate ? 

Postponing consideration of this awkward problem, 
let us first trace these differences in emotional 
susceptibility, in the touchiness of the feelings, 
a little further. They ark very noticeable as between 
infancy, maturity, and old age. The child often 
appears singularly unfeeling, so does the over- 
experienced adult. 

No more, no more, O never more on me 

The freshness of the heart will fall like dew, 

Which out of all the lovely things we see 
Extracts emotions beautiful and new 

as Byron wrote. The point expressed in the last 
word will also have to be considered later. In 
between the infant and the adult come the adolescents, 
who, as is well known, are regarded both by their 
juniors and their seniors as sentimentalists in excelsis. 
The girl of twelve is apt to think her seventeen-year- 
old sister very * sloppy '. As we shall see, there may 
be several reasons for this phenomenon. In old age, 
sometimes, but not always, a return of heightened 
emotional susceptibility takes place. ' Sentimental ' 
here applies to persons. It means that they are too 
susceptible, the flood-gates of their emotions too 
easily raised. 

This then gives us a precise, though very general, 
sense for ' sentimental ', a quantitative sense. A 
response is sentimental if it is too great for the 
occasion. We cannot, obviously, judge that any 
response is sentimental in this sense unless we take 
careful account of the situation. 

Another sense, of which this is not true, is that 
in which ' sentimental ' is equivalent to * crude '. 
A crude emotion, as opposed to a refined emotion, 
can be set off by all manner of situations, whereas 


a refined emotion is one that can only be aroused by 
a narrow range of situations. Refined emotions are 
like sensitive instruments ; they reflect slight changes 
in the situations which call them forth. The 
distinction is parallel in several ways to the dis- 
tinction made above between vague and precise 
thoughts. Though refined responses are capable of 
much more appropriateness than crude ones, they 
are much more likely to go astray, as super-subtle 
folk often show us. On the other hand, though crude 
emotions are less likely to go altogether wrong, they 
are less likely to go entirely right, if we judge them 
by high standards of rightness. Neither crudeness 
nor refinement need imply anything about the 
intensity of the emotion they are qualitative not 
quantitative characters. A crude emotion need not 
be intense, nor a refined one feeble. It is true, 
however, that the most violent emotions are usually 
crude. Terror and rage, as we all know, are apt, 
once they are aroused, to spread and apply them- 
selves to anything. And while intensity is under 
discussion one further point may be noted. Violence 
of emotion, though much popular criticism seems to 
assume so, does not necessarily imply value. Poems 
which are very * moving ' may be negligible or bad. 
It is the quality rather than the violence which 
matters. As Wordsworth wrote, 

The Gods approve 
The depth, and not the tumult, of the soul. 

We may suspect that to-day the demand for violence 
reflects some poverty, through inhibition, in the 
everyday emotional life. In Elizabethan times a 
perhaps not analogous demand could not, however, 
admit of this explanation. 

One more sense of ' sentimental ' requires definition 
before we can turn to consider when accusations of 
sentimentality are justified and when they are not. 


This sense derives from the psychologists' use of the 
word ' sentiment '. A sentiment in his terminology is 
not an experience in the way that an emotion, a pain, 
the sight of something, an image, and a thought, are 
experiences. It is not a momentary thing but 
a more or less permanent arrangement in the mind : 
a group of tendencies towards certain thoughts and 
emotions organised around a central object. Love, 
for example, is a sentiment, if by love we mean, not 
a particular experience lasting certain minutes or 
hours, but a set of tendencies to behave in certain 
ways, to think certain thoughts, to feel certain 
emotions, in connection with a person. Sentiments 
can be very complex ; love includes a tendency to 
feel resentful towards anyone who annoys the loved 
person, and so on. A sentiment, in brief, is a per- 
sisting, organised system of dispositions. 

Sentiments, in this sense, are formed in us through 
our past experience in connection with the central 
object. They are the result of our past interest in 
the object. For this reason they are apt to persist 
even when our present interest in the object is 
changed. For example, a schoolmaster that we 
discover in later life to have been always a quite 
unimportant and negligible person may still retain 
something of his power to overawe us. Again the 
object itself may change, yet our sentiment towards 
it not as it was but as it is may so much remain the 
same that it becomes inappropriate. For example, 
we may go on living in a certain house although 
increase in motor traffic has made life there almost 
insupportable. Conversely, though the object is just 
what it was, our sentiment towards it may completely 
change through a strange and little understood 
influence from other sentiments of later growth. The 
best example is the pathetic and terrible change that 
can too often be observed in the sentiments enter- 
tained towards the War by men who suffered from it 


and hated it to the extremist degree while it was 
raging. After only ten years they sometimes seem 
to feel that after all it was * not so bad ', and a 
Brigadier-General recently told a gathering of Com- 
rades of the Great War that they ' must agree that 
it was the happiest time of their lives '. A familiar 
parallel example is the illusion so many middle-aged 
men entertain that they enjoyed their school-days, 
when in fact they were then acutely wretched. 

I shall use these two forms of distortion to define 
a third sense of ' sentimental ' as follows : A response 
is sentimental when, either through the over- 
persistence of tendencies or through the interaction 
of sentiments, it is inappropriate to the situation that 
calls it forth. It becomes inappropriate, as a rule, 
either by confining itself to one aspect only of the 
many that the situation can present, or by sub- 
stituting for it a factitious, illusory situation that may, 
in extreme cases, have hardly anything in common 
with it. We can study these extreme cases in dreams 
and in asylums. 

Let us now apply these three definitions to some 
of the accusations of sentimentality contained in the 
protocols. With the first two senses however the 
quantitative sense and the crudeness sense an 
obvious ambiguity remains that must first be disposed 
of. When we apply the word to a human product, 
a poem for example, we may mean either of two 
things which we hardly ever distinguish, or we may 
mean both. If we would more often distinguish 
them we should avoid many mistakes and some 
needless injustice. 

We may mean to take Sense One that the poem 
was the product of a mind which was too easily 
stirred to emotion, that it came about through facile 
feelings, that the author was himself sentimental. Or 
we may mean that we should be too easily moved, we 
should ourselves be sentimental, if we allowed our 


own emotions a vigorous outing. Sometimes doubt- 
less, both these assertions are true, but often we are 
only entitled to make the second. (Compare what 
has been said about sincerity in connection with 
Poem VII, p. 95, and Poem VIII, p. 114.) 

Now let us consider Poem IV with this distinction 
in mind. We must, of , course, not read the verses 
as a piece of imaginative sociology such as Zola 
dreamed of. It is not an attempt by a novelist to 
render realistically the stock thoughts and feelings 
and the diction of a girl without poetic ability, 
expressing herself in verse. (But cf. 4-1, 4-3.) We 
have to take it, in the usual way that lyrical, emotional 
verse is taken, as a semi-dramatic utterance not 
inviting ironical contemplation to be judged on its 
merits as poetry. 

This problem of approach is especially relevant 
here. ' Sentimentality recollected in very senti- 
mental tranquillity ' (4- 1) with the rest of the protocol 
as a gloss, seems to accuse the author (perhaps 
identified, improperly, with the heroine of the poem) 
of over-production of emotion (Sense One) and 
suggests further a cause for this excess : x namely, 
preoccupation with the emotion for its own sake 
rather than with the situation occasioning it. New 
emotions as Byron hints in the verse quoted above 
easily divert attention to themselves. Very few 
people, for example, fall in love for the first time 
without becoming enthralled by their emotions 
merely as a novel experience. They become absorbed 
in them often to the exclusion of genuine interest 
in the loved object. Similarly those who are dis- 
covering for the first time that poetry can cause 
them emotion do often, for this very reason, pay 
little attention to the poetry. Writers too, who find 

1 Not, of course, an excess in the feeling ascribed to the girl, but 
an excess of the author's sympathetic emotion or of our sympathetic 


that they can imagine feelings and express them in 
words, may readily become fascinated by this 
occupation, as a kind of game, and lose sight of the 
real sanctions of the feelings in experience. We 
may easily work the feelings up for their own sake, 
forgetting intermittently what the feelings are like 
in our eagerness to hang J:hem on to the forms of 
expression which occur to us. Seeing a chance to 
make a violent emotional effect, we forget whether 
this is the effect we desire. 

Both the accusation and the suggestion as to the 
source of the excess feeling seem justified here. 
The antitheses, so much praised (4-22, 4-24) and so 
much disliked (4-23, 4-31), the rhymes, and the 
mechanical structure, do seem to indicate that 
facilities and conveniences of expression have led 
feeling, rather than that feeling has dictated expres- 
sion. As to the excess of feeling over its justification 
in the actual situation presented by the poem, we 
must beware of a misconception which though 
obviously a mistake is none the less insidious. 

If we separate out the subject or theme of the 
poem, A girl bewailing her lost or absent lover, and 
take this, abstractly, as the situation, we may think 
that it sounds sufficient to justify any extremity of 
sympathetic emotion. But this abstracted theme is 
nothing in itself, and might be the basis of any one of 
as many different developments as there are kinds 
of girls. It cannot in itself be an excuse for any 
emotion. If the mere fact that some girl somewhere 
is thus lamenting were an occasion for emotion, into 
what convulsions ought not the evening paper to 
throw us nightly ? This is obvious, but there is 
reason to think that very many people are ready to 
react emotionally to a * pathetic ' situation merely at 
this level of abstractness, provided it is put before them 
in some kind of metre ; and, if so, such reactions are 
certainly ' sentimental ' in the sense of excessive. 


The situation evidently has to be something more 
concrete. It is the poet's business to present it 
not necessarily apart from his presentation of the 
emotion. He will usually be presenting both together 
through the same words. Here, since the girl is 
speaking herself, every word, every cadence, every 
movement and transitiorj of thought and feeling is 
part of the situation. 

This being so, we may ask two questions. Is the 
situation so given concrete enough, near enough to 
us, and coherent enough to justify the vigorous 
emotional response invited from us ? And is it, in 
its concreteness, nearness and coherence so far as 
they go, of the kind to which this response is 
appropriate ? (I am not saying that nearness, con- 
creteness and coherence are required in all poetry 
this would be an illegitimate technical presupposition. 
But I am saying that if certain effects are aimed at, 
certain methods are thereby prescribed.) m* 

On the first question 4-23, 4-25 and 4-31 forcibly 
present the adverse opinion, though as we have seen 
in Chapter IV we must be careful in applying the 
rhythm test. (4*25 seems, however, here to be 
justified in the rhythm he ascribes to the verses.) 
These writers, in contrast to 4-11, 4-24 or 4-52, seem 
to be responding to the situation as actually presented 
by the poet not to situations they have imagined 
for him or to the ' trappings and catchwords of 
romance ' in which he has decked out the verses. 
These decorations by their conventional quality 
raise all the problems reviewed in the last chapter. 
That they were the source of the poem's great 
popularity is not to be doubted. Equally evident is 
the great danger of snobbery whenever such questions 
arise. That a metaphor is conventional and familiar 
is not, of course, in itself sufficient ground for 
objection, though it is often enough the whole 
explanation of the complaint. Similarly, if the 


situation and emotion were ordinary, simple and 
familiar (as 4-3 suggests), that in itself would be no 
bar to merit, provided the emotion were properly 
founded in the situation. (Compare Gray's Elegy.} 
To suppose otherwise would be a very stupid kind 
of emotional snobbery. Or if lack of skill in the 
author were the cause of the conventional metaphors, 
that again would be no ground for indignation. But 
if the borrowed, second-hand, quality of the expression 

In slavish habit, ill-fitted weeds 
Oreworn and soild 

reflects, not merely neediness or carelessness, but 
a similar second-hand, reach-me-down, quality in 
the thing expressed, then the vigour of some of the 
rejections is excused. 

These reflections apply to the concreteness and 
nfamess we are looking for in the poem. Con- 
venTOnal metaphors tend to fail in both characters, 
a tendency not avoided here. But they apply still 
more to the coherence that is required. Borrowed 
decorations and here is the gravest objection to 
their use are almost always irrelevant. The various 
items do not hang together, and their combined 
effect, if any, is likely to be crude in the sense dis- 
cussed above. Here, for example, the sunshine and 
dog-roses of verse three have somehow to adjust 
themselves to the winter and the wailing of the wind 
in verse two, and the idly circulating ' wind of the 
years ', which has possibly blown in from the pages 
of Swinburne, 1 has to ' whisper ' above this wailing. 
(Such incoherences are characteristic of conventional 
verse ; only a very intent concentration of the poet's 
imaginative faculties can prevent them. In them- 
selves they need not be destructive (cf. Ch. II), but 

1 It may also be suggested that the phrase 'life lies dead* is 
possibly an echo of Swinburne's A Forsaken Garden. 


they are a very useful corroboration if we suspect 
on other grounds that the central impulse of a poem 
is weak.) By the time these incoherent items have 
pooled their effects the response can hardly here be 
anything but crude an undirected, objectless feeling 
of pathos that will attach itself to anything that will 
give it an excuse to the caravan bells of Hassan 
(4-52), for example. 

The emotion, in fact, which this poem can excite 
(and on which its popularity depends) is easily 
enjoyed for its own sake, regardless of its object or 
prompting situation. Most people will not find it 
difficult, if they so desire, to sit down by the fireside 
and concoct a precisely similar emotion without the 
assistance of any poem whatever merely by saying 
Oh ! to themselves in various tones of sadness, 
regret and tremulous hope. It is an emotion that 
we tend, if we indulge it at all, to luxuriate in, as 4-1 
remarks. Hence the pow r er of these verses to divide 
readers sharply into two camps. 

Passing now to Poem VIII, accusations of senti- 
mentality in the first and third of our senses appear 
most instructively. The charge of excessive emotional 
response, too light a trigger adjustment for the 
feelings, is coupled with the suggestions that the 
poet is ' revelling in emotion for its own sake ' (8-1), 
' positively wallowing in a warm bath of soapy 
sentiment ' (8-12), that he ' seems to love feeling 
sobby ' (8-41), and that he is ' trying to get effects 
the whole time ' (8-44) as explanations of this 
excess of feeling. As a rule the complainants 
demonstrate satisfactorily that they have mistaken 
the situation to which the emotion is a response. It 
is music in general for 8-12, ' the poet's miseries ' 
for 8- 1 1, his 'pure, spotless childhood' and his 
present state as a * world- worn wretch' for 8-41. 
And as a result of these mistakes the characters of 
the emotions these writers attributed to the poem 


are equally irrelevant. The moral again is that 
before we can decide whether a poem is or is not 
sentimental in this sense we must be sure that we 
know both what the presented situation is and what 
response is invited. Only the very closest reading 
will tell us enough about either to make judgment 
worth while. 

The charge of sentimentality in our third sense 
raises a more complicated issue, for the poem is 
itself clearly a study of a border-line case, and, if not 
read more carefully than, for example, by 8*3, or 
8-31, is likely to be disastrous in its emotional effects. 
There is, it is true, a * mawkish sentiment with which 
we so often think of childhood ' ; and ' one's loose 
emotion ' does as easily attach itself to ' old Sunday 
evenings at home ', ' the cosy parlour ' and ' the 
vista of years ' as to ' the chimney-nook ' or ' the 
wind of the years '. But the danger, * the appalling 
risk*' (8-5) of arousing only these emotions need not 
frighten the poet away from such topics if he can 
give enough nearness, concreteness and coherence 1 
to the situation to support and control the response 
that ensues. Or if he can build these dangerous 
elements into a whole response which completes and 
frees them. For what is bad in these sentimental 
responses is their confinement to one stereotyped, 
unrepresentative aspect of the prompting situation. 

This brings us to the subject of inhibitions. Most, 
if not all, sentimental fixations and distortions of 
feeling are the result of inhibitions, and often when 
we discuss sentimentality we are looking at the wrong 
side of the picture. If a man can only think of his 
childhood as a lost heaven it is probably because he 
is afraid to think of its other aspects. And those who 
contrive to look back to the War as ' a good time/ 

1 I am not recommending nearness, concreteness and coherence as 
specifics for the avoidance of sentimentality. All depends upon what 
it is that is brought near, what is concrete and what coheres. 


are probably busy dodging certain other memories. 
The mind is curiously quantitative in some of its 
operations ; undue curtailment in one direction seems 
to imply excess in an opposite direction. Inhibition, 
in due place and degree, is, of course, a necessity for 
mental activity quite as much a necessity as exercise. 
It was Bergson, I think, who once described Time as 
resistance the resistance namely against everything 
happening at once ! Without inhibition everything 
in the mind would happen at once, which is tanta- 
mount to saying that nothing would happen or that 
Chaos would return. All order and proportion is 
the result of inhibition, we cannot indulge one 
mental activity without inhibiting others. Therefore 
the opinion sometimes emitted that all inhibition 
(or repression) is bad, is at the least an overstatement. 
What is unfortunate is the permanent curtailment of 
our possibilities as human beings, the blanking out, 
through repeated and maintained inhibition, of 
aspects of experience that our mental health requires 
us sometimes to envisage. 

As a rule the source of such inhibitions is some 
painfulness attaching to the aspect of life that we 
refuse to contemplate. The sentimental response 
steps in to replace this aspect by some other aspect 
more pleasant to contemplate or by some factitious 
object which flatters the contemplator. There are 
innumerable cross-currents of motive here which 
may conceal from us what we are doing. The man 
who, in reaction to the commoner naive forms of 
sentimentality, prides himself upon his hard- 
headedness and hard-heartedness, his hard-boiledness 
generally, and seeks out or invents aspects with 
a bitter or squalid character, for no better reason 
than this, is only displaying a more sophisticated 
form of sentimentality. Fashion, of course, is 
responsible for many of these secondary twists. 
Indeed the control of Society over our sentiments, 


over our publicly avowable sentiments, is remarkably 
efficient. Compare, for example, the attitudes to 
tears (especially to masculine tears) approved by the 
eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Very little 
reflection and inquiry will show conclusively that 
the eighteenth century in regarding a profuse dis- 
charge of the lachrymal glands as a proper and almost 
necessary accompaniment of tender and sorrowful 
emotion was much more representative of humanity 
in all ages than are our contemporary wooden-eyed 
stoics. The current attitude naturally appeared in 
the protocols (8-52, 8-6, 8-61). Even Poem VIII 
itself shows it, for an eighteenth-century writer would 
have felt no need to fight against such an emotion. 

A widespread general inhibition of all the simpler 
expansive developments of emotion (not only of its 
expression) has to be recognised among our educated 
population. It is a new condition not easily paralleled 
in history, and though it is propagated through social 
convention its deeper causes are not easy to divine. 
To put it down, as many have done, to the excesses 
of the Victorians, is only to show an ignorance of the 
generations that preceded them. Possibly it is due 
to the increasing indefiniteness of our beliefs and 
disbeliefs, to the blurring of the moral background of 
our lives, but such speculations would take us too far. 

Whatever its cause, the fact that so many readers 
are afraid of free expansive emotion, even when the 
situation warrants it, is important. It leads them, 
as Poem VIII showed, to suspect and avoid situations 
that may awaken strong and simple feeling. It 
produces shallowness and trivial complexity in their 
response. And it leaves those * sentimental ' over- 
growths that escape the taboo too free a field for their 
semi-surreptitious existence. The only safe cure for 
a mawkish attachment to an illusory childhood 
heaven, for example, is to take the distorted sentiment 
and work it into close and living relation with some 


scene concretely and truthfully realised, which may 
act as a standard of reality and awaken the dream- 
infected object of the sentiment into actuality. This 
is the treatment by expansion, and Poem VIII may 
stand as an example of how it may be done. The 
other, more practised, form of treatment which we 
apply to sentimentalists treatment through sneers, 
through ' realism ', through caustics, the attempt by 
various means not to enlarge the canalised response, 
but to destroy it or dry it up is ineffective, and may 
lead only to increased impoverishment. For the 
curse of sentimentality in the third sense is not that 
its victims have too much feeling at their disposal, 
but that they have too little, that they see life in too 
specialised a fashion and respond to it too narrowly. 
The sentimentalist, in brief, is not distributing his 
interest widely enough, and is distributing it in too 
few forms. 




Logic is the ethics of thinking, in the sense in which ethics is the 
bringing to bear of self-control, for the purpose of realising our desires. 


WITH most of our critical difficulties what we have 
had to explain is how mistakes come to be so frequent. 
But here we are in the opposite case, we have to 
explain how they come to be so rare. For it would 
seem evident that poetry which has been built upon 
firm and definite beliefs about the world, The Divine 
Comedy or Paradise Lost, or Donne's Divine Poems, or 
Shelley ' Prometheus Unbound, or Hardy's The Dynasts , 
must appear differently to readers who do and readers 
who do not hold similar beliefs. Yet in fact most 
readers, and nearly all good readers, are very little 
disturbed by even a direct opposition between their 
own beliefs and the beliefs of the poet. Lucretius 
and Virgil, Euripides and Aeschylus, we currently 
assume, are equally accessible, given the necessary 
scholarship, to a Roman Catholic, to a Buddhist and 
to a confirmed sceptic. Equally accessible in the 
sense that these different readers, after due study, 
may respond in the same way to the poetry and arrive 
at similar judgments about it. And when they differ, 
their divergencies will commonly not be a result of 
their different positions with regard to the doctrines * 
of the authors, but are more likely to derive from 

1 I am not accusing these authors of doctrinal poetry in the narrow 
sense of verse whose sole object is to teach. But that a body of 
doctrine is presented by each of these poets, even by Virgil, can 
hardly escape any reader's notice. 



other causes in their temperaments and personal 

I have instanced religious poetry because the 
beliefs there concerned have the widest implications, 
and are the most seriously entertained of any. But 
the same problem arises with nearly all poetry ; with 
mythology very evidently ; with such supernatural 
machinery as appears in The Rime of the Ancient 
Manner : 

The horned Moon, with one bright star 
Within the nether tip, 

with Blake's manifestoes ; but equally, though less 
obtrusively, with every passage which seems to make 
a statement, or depend upon an assumption, that 
a reader may dissent from without, thereby giving 
proof of mental derangement. 

It is essential to recognise that the problem 1 is 
the same whether the possible stumbling-block, the 
point of dissent, be trivial or important. When the 
point is trivial, we easily satisfy ourselves with an 
explanation in terms of c poetic fictions '. When it 
is a matter of no consequence whether we assent 
or dissent, the theory that these disputable state- 
ments, so constantly presented to us in poetry, are 
merely assumptions introduced for poetic purposes, 
seems an adequate explanation. And when the 
statements, for example, Homer's account of * the 
monkey-shines of the Olympian troupe ', are frankly 
incredible, if paraded solemnly before the bar of 
reasoned judgment, the same explanation applies. 
But as the assumptions grow more plausible, and as 
the consequences for our view of the world grow 
important, the matter seems less simple. Until, in 
the end, with Donne's Sonnet (Poem ///), for example, 
it becomes very difficult not to think that actual 

1 A supplementary and fuller discussion of this whole matter will 
be found in Principles of Literary Criticism, Ch. XXXII-XXXV, 
where difficulties, which here must be passed by, are treated in detail. 


belief in the doctrine that appears in the poem is 
required for its full and perfect imaginative realisa- 
tion. The mere assumption of Donne's theology, 
as a poetic fiction, may seem insufficient in view of 
the intensity of the feeling which is supported and 
conveyed to us by its means. It is at least certain, 
as the protocols show (3-15, 5-42, 5-37, 5-38, 7-21), 
that many who try to read religious poetry find them- 
selves strongly invited to the beliefs presented, and 
that doctrinal dissent is a very serious obstacle to 
their reading. Conversely, many successful but 
dissenting readers find themselves in a mental 
attitude towards the doctrine which, if it is not 
belief, closely resembles belief. 

Yet if we suppose that, beyond this mere ' poetic ' 
assumption, a definite state of belief in this particular 
doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body is required 
for a full reading of Donne's poem, great difficulties 
at once arise. We shall have to suppose that readers 
who hold different beliefs incompatible with this 
particular doctrine must either not be able to read 
the poem, or must temporarily while reading it 
abandon their own beliefs and adopt Donne's. 
Both suppositions seem contrary to the facts, though 
these are matters upon which certainty is hazardous. 
We shall do better, however, to examine the ' poetic 
fiction ', or assumption, theory more closely and see 
whether when fully stated it is capable of meeting 
the complaint of inadequacy noticed above. 

In the first place the very word * assumption ' 
is unsuitable here. Ordinarily an assumption is 
a proposition, an object of thought, entertained 
intellectually in order to trace its logical consequences 
as a hypothesis. But here we are concerned very 
little with logical consequences and almost ex- 
clusively with emotional consequences. In the effect 
of the thought upon our feelings and attitudes, all 
its importance, for poetry, lies. But there are 


clearly two ways in which we may entertain an 
assumption : intellectually, that is in a context of 
other thoughts ready to support, contradict, or 
establish other logical relations with it ; and emotion- 
ally, in a context of sentiments, feelings, desires and 
attitudes ready to group themselves around it. 
Behind the intellectual q?sumption stands the desire 
for logical consistency and order in the receptive side 
of the mind. But behind the emotional assumption 
stands the desire or need for order of the whole 
outgoing emotional side of the personality, the side 
that is turned towards action. 

Corresponding to this distinction there are two 
forms of belief and similarly two forms of disbelief. 
Intellectual belief more resembles a weighting of an 
idea than anything else, a loading 1 which makes 
other, less heavily weighted, ideas, adjust themselves 
to it rather than vice versa. The loading may be 
legitimate ; the quantity of evidence, its immediacy, 
the extent and complexity of the supporting systems 
of ideas are obvious forms of legitimate loading : 
or it may be illegitimate ; our liking for the idea, 
its brilliance, the trouble that changing it may 
involve, emotional satisfactions from it, are illegiti- 
mate -from the standpoint of intellectual belief be it 
understood. The whole use of intellectual belief is 
to bring all our ideas into as perfect an ordered 
system as possible. We disbelieve only because we 
believe something else that is incompatible, as 
Spinoza long ago pointed out. Similarly, we perhaps 
only believe because it is necessary to disbelieve 
whatever is logically contradictory to our belief. 
Neither belief nor disbelief arises, in this intellectual 
sense, unless the logical context of our ideas is in 

1 To introspection this loading seems like a feeling of trust or 
trustworthiness. We 'side' with the belief intellectually, and though 
traditionally belief has been discussed along with judgment it is, as 
William James pointed out, more allied to choice. 


question. Apart from these logical connections the 
idea is neither believed nor disbelieved, nor doubted 
nor questioned ; it is just present. Most of the 
ideas of the child, of primitive man, of the peasant, of 
the non-intellectual world and of most poetry are in this 
happy condition of real intellectual disconnection. 

Emotional belief is a v*Jry different matter. In 
primitive man, as innumerable observers have 
remarked, any idea which opens a ready outlet to 
emotion or points to a line of action in conformity 
with custom is quickly believed. We remain much 
more primitive in this phase of our behaviour than 
in intellectual matters. Given a need 1 (whether 
conscious as a desire or not), any idea which can be 
taken as a step on the way to its fulfilment is accepted, 
unless some other need equally active at the moment 
bars it out. This acceptance, this use of the idea 
by our interests, desires, feelings, attitudes, tendencies 
to action and what not is emotional belief. So far 
as the idea is useful to them it is believed, and the 
sense of attachment, of adhesion, of conviction, 
which we feel, and to which we give the name of 
belief, is the result of this implication of the idea 
in our activities. 

Most beliefs, of course, that have any strength or 
persistence are mixtures of intellectual and emotional 
belief. A purely intellectual belief need have little 
strength, no quality of conviction about it, for unless 
the idea is very original and contrary to received ideas, 
it needs little loading to hold its own. When we 
find a modern physicist, for example, passionately 
attached to a particular theory, we may suspect 

1 I use 'need' here to stand for an imbalance mental or physical, 
a tendency, given suitable conditions, for a movement towards an 
end-state of equilibrium. A swinging pendulum might thus be said 
to be actuated by a need to come to rest, and to constantly overdo its 
movements towards that end. We are much more like pendulums 
than we think, though, of course, our imbalances are infinitely more 


illegitimate loading, his reputation is perhaps involved 
in its acceptance. Conversely, a very strong emotional 
belief may have little persistence. Last night's 
revelation grows dim amid this morning's affairs, 
for the need which gave it such glamorous reality was 
only a need of the moment. Of this kind are most 
of the revelations received from poetry and music. 
But though the sense of revelation has faded, we 
should not suppose that the shaping influence of 
such experiences must be lost. The mind has 
found through them a pattern of response which 
may remain, and it is this pattern rather than the 
revelation which is important. 

The great difference between these two kinds of 
belief, as I have defined them, appears most plainly 
if we consider what justification amounts to for each. 
Whether an intellectual belief is justified is entirely 
a matter of its logical place in the largest, most 
completely ordered, system of ideas we can attain 
to. Now the central, most stable, mass of our ideas 
has already an order and arrangement fixed for it 
by the facts of Nature. We must bring our ideas 
of these facts into correspondence with them or we 
promptly perish. And this order among the every- 
day facts of our surroundings determines the 
arrangement of yet another system of our ideas": 
namely, physical theory. These ideas are thereby 
weighted beyond the power of irreconcilable ideas 
to disturb them. Anyone who understands them 
cannot help believing in them, and disbelieving 
intellectually in irreconcilable ideas, provided that 
he brings them close enough together to perceive 
their irreconcilability. There are obviously countless 
ideas in poetry which, if put into this logical 
context, must be disbelieved at once. 

But this intellectual disbelief does not imply that 
emotional belief in the same idea is either impossible 
or even difficult much less that it is undesirable. 


For an emotional belief is not justified through any 
logical relations between its idea and other ideas. 
Its only justification is its success in meeting our 
needs due regard being paid to the relative claims 
of our many needs one against another. It is 
a matter, to put it simply, of the prudence (in view of 
all the needs of our being) ,of the kind of emotional 
activities the belief subserves. The desirability or 
undesirability of an emotional belief has nothing to 
do with its intellectual status, provided it is kept 
from interfering w r ith the intellectual system. And 
poetry is an extraordinarily successful device for 
preventing these interferences from arising. 

Coleridge, when he remarked that ' a willing 
suspension of disbelief ' accompanied much poetry, 
was noting an important fact, but not quite in the 
happiest terms, for we are neither aware of a disbelief 
nor voluntarily suspending it in these cases. It is 
better to say that the question of belief or disbelief, 
in the intellectual sense, never arises when we are 
reading well. If unfortunately it does arise, either 
through the poet's fault or our own, we have for the 
moment ceased to be reading poetry and have 
become astronomers, or theologians, or moralists, 
persons engaged in quite a different type of activity. 

But a possible misconception must be noted here 
The intellectual exploration of the internal coherence 
of the poem, and the intellectual examination of the 
relations of its ideas to other ideas of ordinary 
experience which are emotionally relevant to it, are 
not only permissible but necessary in the reading of 
much poetry, as we saw in connection with the sea- 
harp in Poem IX, and in connection with the 
sentimentality and stock-response problems of Poems 
IV, VIII and XIII. But this restricted intellectual 
inquiry is a different thing from the all-embracing 
attempt to systematise our ideas which alone brings 
up the problem of intellectual belief. 


We can now turn back to Poem III, to the point 
from which this long analysis started. There are 
many readers who feel a difficulty in giving to Donne's 
theology just that kind of acceptance, and no more, 
that they give to Coleridge's ' star within the nether 
tip '. They feel an invitation to accord to the poem 
that belief in its ideas ^yhich we can hardly help 
supposing to have been, in Donne's mind, a powerful 
influence over its shaping. These readers may, 
perhaps, be content if we insist that the fullest 
possible emotional belief is fitting and desirable. At 
the same time there are many who are unable to 
accord intellectual belief to these particular theological 
tenets. Such readers may feel that a threatened 
liberty is not thereby denied them. The fact that 
Donne probably gave both forms of belief to these 
ideas need not, I think, prevent a good reader from 
giving the fullest emotional belief while withholding 
intellectual belief, or rather while not allowing the 
question of intellectual belief to arise. The evidence 
is fragmentary upon the point, largely because it has 
been so strangely little discussed. But the very fact 
that the need to discuss it has not insistently arisen 
seeing how many people from how many different 
intellectual positions have been able to agree about 
the value of such doctrinal poems points strongly 
in this direction. The absence of intellectual belief 
need not cripple emotional belief, though evidently 
enough in some persons it may. But the habit of 
attaching emotional belief only to intellectually 
certified ideas is strong in some people ; it is 
encouraged by some forms of education; it is 
perhaps becoming, through the increased prestige of 
science, more common. 1 For those whom it conquers 
it means c Good-bye to poetry '. 

1 I have discussed this danger at length in Science and Poetry. 
There is reason to think that poetry has often arisen through fusion 
(or confusion) between the two forms of belief, the boundary between 


For the difficulty crops up, as I have insisted, over 
all poetry that departs, for its own purposes, from the 
most ordinary universal facts of common experience 
or from the most necessary deductions of scientific 
theory. It waylays the strict rationalist with Blake's 
* Sunflower ', Wordsworth's c River Duddon ', and 
Shelley's ' Cloud ', no less than with their more 
transcendental utterances/ Shakespeare's Lark is 
as shocking as his Phoenix. Even so honest a man 
as Gray attributes very disputable motives to his 
Owl. As for Dry den's c new-kindled star ', the 
last verse of Keats' Ode to Melancholy > or Landor's 
Rose Aylmer it is very clear where we should be 
with them if we could not give emotional assent apart 
from intellectual conviction. The slightest poetry 
may present the problem as clearly (though not so 
acutely) as the greatest. And the fact that we solve 
it, in practice, without the least difficulty in minor 
cases shows, I think, that even in the major instances 
of philosophic and religious issues the same solution 
is applicable. But the temptation to confuse the 
two forms of belief is there greater. 

For in these cases an appearance of incompleteness 
or insincerity may attach to emotional acceptance 
divorced from intellectual assent. 1 That this is 

what is intellectually certified and what is not being much less sharply 
definited in former centuries and defined in another manner. The 
standard of verification used in science to-day is comparatively a new 
thing. As the scientific view of the world (including our own nature) 
develops, we shall probably be forced into making a division between 
fact and fiction that, unless we can meet it with a twofold theory of 
belief on the lines suggested above, would be fatal not only to poetry 
but to all our finer, more spiritual, responses. That is the problem. 

1 The most important example of this divorce that history provides 
is in the attitude of Confucius towards ancestor-worship. Here are 
the remarks of his chief English translator, James Legge, upon the 
matter. * It will not be supposed that I wish to advocate or defend 
the practice of sacrificing to the dead. My object has been to point 
out how Confucius recognised it, without acknowledging the faith 
from which it must have originated, and how he enforced it as a 
matter of form or ceremony. It thus connects itself with the most 
serious charge that can be brought against him the charge of 


simply a mistake due to a double-meaning of ' belief ' 
has been my contention. To ' pretend to believe ' 
what we ' don't really believe ' would certainly be 
insincerity, if the two kinds of believing were one and 
the same ; but if they are not, the confusion is 
merely another example of the prodigious power of 
words over our lives. Arjd this will be the best place 
to take up the uncomfortable problem of ' sincerity ', 
a word much used in criticism, but not often with 
any precise definition of its meaning. 

The ideas, vague and precise, for which * sincere ' 
stands must have been constantly in the reader's 
mind during our discussion both of Stock Responses 
and of Sentimentality. We can set aside at once the 
ordinary ' business ' sense in which a man is insincere 
when he deliberately attempts to deceive, and sincere 
when his statements and acts are governed by * the 
best of his knowledge and belief '. And we can deal 
briefly with another sense, already touched upon in 
connection with Poem VII (see p. 95), in which a man 
is insincere when * he kids himself ', when he mistakes 
his own motives and so professes feelings which are 
different from those that are in fact actuating him. 
Two subtle points, however, must be noted before 
w r e set this sense aside. The feelings need not be 
stated or even openly expressed ; it is enough if they 
are hinted to us. And they need not be actual 
personal ' real, live feelings ' ; they may imagined 
feelings. All that is required for this kind of insin- 
cerity is a discrepancy between the poem's claim 
upon our response and its shaping impulses in the 
poet's mind. But only the shaping impulses are 
relevant. A good poem can perfectly well be 
written for money or from pique or ambition, 
provided these initial external motives do not interfere 

insincerity', The Chinese Classics, Vol. I, Prolegomena, Ch. V, p. 100. 
How far Legge was qualified to expound the Confucian doctrine of 
sincerity may perhaps be divined from this passage. 


with its growth. Interferences of all kinds notably 
the desire to make the poem ' original ', * striking ', 
or ' poetic ' are, of course, the usual cause of 
insincerity in this sense. A sense which ought not, 
it may be remarked, to impute blame to the author, 
unless we are willing to agree that all men who are 
not good poets are therefore blameworthy in a high 

These subtleties were necessary to escape the 
conclusion that irony, for example where the feeling 
really present is often the exact contrary to that 
overtly professed is as insincere as simple readers 
often suppose it must be. 

A more troublesome problem is raised if we ask 
whether an emotion, by itself and apart from its 
expression, can be sincere or insincere. We often 
speak as if this were so (witness 4-2, 4-23 and 8-51), 
and though sometimes no doubt this is only an 
effective way of saying that we approve (or dis- 
approve) of the emotion, there are senses in which 
a fact about the emotion, not about our feelings about 
it, is meant. Sincere emotions, we say, are genuine 
or authentic, as opposed to spurious emotions, and 
the several senses which we may imply thereby are 
worth examining. We may mean that the emotion 
is genuine in the sense that every product of a perfect 
mind would be genuine. It would result only from 
the prompting situation plus all the relevant experience 
of that mind, and be free from impurities and from 
all interferences, from impulses that had in any way 
got out of place and become disordered. Since such 
minds are nowhere obtainable in this obstructive 
world, such a sense is useful only as an ideal standard 
by which to measure degrees of relative insincerity. 
' There is not a just man on earth that doeth good 
and sinneth not '. Some great poetry, we might 
say, represents the closest approach to sincerity that 
can be found. And for extreme degrees of insin- 


cerity we should look in asylums. Possibly however, 
the perfect mind, if it ever appeared among us, might 
be put there too. 

But this is plainly not a sense of sincerity which 
we often use, it is not what people ordinarily mean. 
For we would agree that stupid people can be very 
sincere, though their minds may be very much in 
a muddle, and we might* even suggest that they are 
more likely to be sincere than the clever. Simplicity, 
we may think, has something to do with sincerity, 
for there is a sense in which * genuine ' is opposed 
to c sophisticated '. The sincere feeling, it may be 
suggested, is one which has been left in its natural 
state, not worked over and complicated by reflection. 
Thus strong spontaneous feelings would be more 
likely to be sincere than feelings that have run the 
gauntlet of self-criticism, and a dog, for example, 
might be regarded as a more sincere animal than 
any man. 

This is certainly a sense which is frequent, though 
whether we should praise emotions that are sincere 
in this sense as much as most people do, is extremely 
doubtful. It is partly an echo of Rousseau's romantic 
fiction, the ' Natural Man '. Admiration for the 
' spontaneous ' and ' natural ' tends to select favour- 
able examples and turns a very blind eye to the less 
attractive phenomena. Moreover, many emotions 
which look simple and natural are nothing of the 
kind, they result from cultivated self-control, so 
consummate as to seem instantaneous. These cases, 
and an attractive but limited virtue in some children's 
behaviour, explain, I believe, the popularity of 
sincerity in this sense. So used, the word is of little 
service in criticism, for this kind of sincerity in poetry 
must necessarily be rare. 

It will be worth while hunting a little longer for 
a satisfactory sense of ' sincerity '. Whatever it is, it 
is the quality we most insistently require in poetry. 


It is also the quality we most need as critics. And, 
perhaps, in the proportion that we possess it we shall 
acknowledge that it is not a quality that we can take 
for granted in ourselves as our inalienable birthright. 
It fluctuates with our state of health, with the quality 
of our recent companions, with our responsibility and 
our nearness to the object, with a score of conditions 
that are not easy to take account of. We can feel 
very sincere when, in fact, as others can see clearly, 
there is no sincerity in us. Bogus forms of the 
virtue waylay us confident inner assurances and 
invasive rootless convictions. And when we doubt 
our own sincerity and ask ourselves, * Do I really 
think so ; do I really feel so ? ' an honest answer is 
not easily come by. A direct effort to be sincere, 
like other effects to will ourselves into action, more 
often than not, frustrates its intention. For all these 
reasons any light that can be gained upon the nature 
of sincerity, upon possible tests for it and means for 
inducing and promoting it, is extremely serviceable 
to the critic. 

The most stimulating discussion of this topic is to 
be found in the Chung Yung l (The Doctrine of the 
Mean, or Equilibrium and Harmony), the treatise 
that embodies the most interesting and the most 
puzzling part of the teachings of Confucius. A more 
distinct (and distinguished) word than * stimulating ' 
would be in place to describe this treatise, were the 
invigorating effect of a careful reading easier to 
define. Sincerity the object of some idea that 
seems to lie in the territory that ' sincerity ' covers 
appears there as the beginning and end of personal 

L As might be expected, no translation that entirely commends 
itself is available. Those to whom Legge's edition of 77ic Chinese 
Classics, Vol. I, is not available, may consult the translation by 
L. A. Lyall and King Chien Kun, The Chung Yung or The Centre, the 
Common (Longmans), very literal, but perhaps slightly too much 
tinctured with a Y.M.C.A. flavour. Here what is translated by others 
* sincerity' or 'singleness' is rendered by 'to be true and 'being' true'. 


character, the secret of the good life, the only means to 
good government, the means to give full development 
to our own natures, to give full development to the 
nature of others, and very much more. This virtue 
is as mysterious as it is powerful ; and, where so 
many great sinologues and Chinese scholars have 
confessed themselves bailed, it would be absurd for 
one who knows no Chinese to suggest interpretations. 
But some speculations generated by a reading of 
translations may round off this chapter. 

The following extracts from the Chung Yung seem 
the most relevant to our discussion. 

' Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attain- 
ment of sincerity is the way of men. He who 
possesses sincerity, is he who, without an effort, hits 
what is right, and apprehends, without the exercise 
of thought ; he is the sage who naturally and easily 
embodies the right way. He who attains to sincerity, 
is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it 
fast ' (Legge, XX, 18). ' Sincerity is that whereby 
self- completion is effected, and its way is that by 
which man must direct himself ' (Legge, XXV, i). 
' In self-completion the superior man completes 
other men and things also . . . and this is the way 
by which a union is effected of the external and the 
internal ' (XXV, 3). ' In the Book of Poetry, it is 
said, " In hewing an axe-handle, in hewing an axe- 
handle, the pattern is not far off ". We grasp one 
axe-handle to hew the other, and yet, if we look 
askance from the one to the other, we may consider 
them as apart ' (XIII, 2). ' There is a way to the 
attainment of sincerity in one's self ; if a man does 
not understand what is good, he will not attain 
sincerity in himself ' (XX, 17). ' When we have 
intelligence resulting from sincerity, this condition 
is to be ascribed to nature ; when we have sincerity 
resulting from intelligence, this condition is to be 
ascribed to instruction. But given the sincerity, 


there shall be the intelligence, given the intelligence 
there shall be the sincerity ' (XXI). How far apart 
any detailed precise exposition in English, or in any 
modern Western language, must be from the form of 
thought of the original, is shown if we compare 
a more literal version of this last passage : * Being 
true begets light, we call tjbat nature. Light leads 
to being true, we call that teaching. What is true 
grows light ; what is light grows true ' (Lyall and 
King Chien-Kim, p. 16). 

Meditating upon this chain of pronouncements 
we can perhaps construct (or discover) another sense 
of sincerity. One important enough to justify the 
stress so often laid upon this quality by critics, yet 
not compelling us to require an impossible per- 
fection or inviting us to sentimental (Sense 3) 
indiscriminate over-admiration of the ebullitions of 
infants. And it may be possible, by apprehending 
this sense more clearly, to see what general con- 
ditions will encourage sincerity and what steps may 
be suggested to promote this mysterious but necessary 
virtue in the critic. 

We may take self-completion as our starting-point. 
The completed mind would be that perfect mind we 
envisaged above, in which no disorder, no mutual 
frustration of impulses remained. Let us suppose 
that in the irremediable default of this perfection, 
default due to man's innate constitution and to the 
accidents to which he is exposed, there exists 
a tendency towards increased order? a tendency which 

1 I have in several other places made prolonged and determined 
efforts to indicate the types of mental order I have in mind (The 
Foundations of Esthetics, XIV ; Principles of Literary Criticism, 
Ch. XXII ; Science and Poetry -, II), but without escaping certain 
large misunderstandings that I had hoped to have guarded myself 
against. Thus Mr Eliot, reviewing Science and Poetry in The Dial, 
describes my ideal order as * Efficiency, a perfectly-working mental 
Roneo Steel Cabinet System', and Mr Read performing a similar 
service for Principles in The Criterion, seemed to understand that 
where I spoke of * the organisation of impulses' I meant that kind of 


takes effect unless baffled by physical interferences 
(disease) or by fixations of habit that prevent us 
from continuing to learn by experience, or by ideas 
too invested with emotion for other ideas that 
disturb them to be formed, or by too lax and volatile 
a bond between our interests (a frivolousness that 
is perhaps due to the draining off of energy elsewhere) 
so that no formations firm enough to build upon 

There is much to be said in favour of such a sup- 
position. This tendency would be a need, in the 
sense defined above in this chapter deriving in fact 
from the fundamental imbalance l to which biological 
development may be supposed to be due. This 
development with man (and his animal neighbours) 
seems to be predominantly in the direction of 
greater complexity and finer differentiation of 
responses. And it is easy to conceive the organism 
as relieving, through this differentiation, the strain 
put upon it by life in a partly uncongenial environ- 
ment. It is but a step further to conceive it as also 
tending to relieve internal strains due to these 
developments imposed from without. And a re- 
ordering of its impulses so as to reduce their 
interferences with one another to a minimum would 

deliberate planning and arrangement which the controllers of a good 
railway or large shop must carry out. But * organisation ' for me 
stood for that kind of interdependence of parts which we allude to 
when we speak of living things as 'organisms' ; and the 'order' which 
I make out to be so important is not tidiness. The distinguished 
names cited in this foot-note will protect the reader from a sense that 
these explanations are insulting to his intelligence. A good idea of 
some of the possibilities of order and disorder in the mind may be 
gained from Pavlov's Conditioned Reflexes. 

1 Whether we can profitably posit a primal imbalance in certain 
forms of matter for which the appearance of living substances and 
their development in increasingly complex forms right up to Shake- 
speare would be, as it were, the swings of the pendulum 'attempting' 
to come to rest again, is a speculation that has perhaps only an 
amusement value. The great difficulty would be to get round the 
separation of the reproductive functions, but that is a difficulty for 
any cosmologist. 


be the most successful and the c natural ' direction 
which this tendency would take. 

Such a re-ordering would be a partial self- 
completion, temporary and provisional upon the 
external world remaining for the individual much 
what it had been in the past. And by such self- 
completion the superior map would ' effect a union 
of the external and the internal '. Being more at 
one within itself the mind thereby becomes more 
appropriately responsive to the outer world. I am 
not suggesting that this is what Confucius meant. 
For him ' to complete other men and things too ', is 
possibly the prerogative of the force of example, 
other men merely imitating the conduct of the sage, 
But he may have meant that freedom calls out 
freedom ; that those who are ' most themselves ' 
cause others about them to become also ' more 
themselves ' ; which would, perhaps, be a more 
sagacious observation. Perhaps, too, * the union of 
the external and the internal ' meant for him some- 
thing different from the accordance of our thoughts 
and feelings with reality. But certainly, for us, this 
accordance is one of the fruits of sincerity. 

This tendency towards a more perfect order, as 
it takes effect, ' enables us, without effort, to hit 
what is right, and, without the exercise of thought, 
to apprehend '. The * exercise of thought ' here 
must be understood as that process of deliberately 
setting aside inappropriate ideas and feelings, which, 
in default of a sufficient inner order a sufficient 
sincerity is still very necessary. Confucius has 
enough to say elsewhere in the Chung Yung (Ch. XX, 
20) of the need for unremitting research and reflection 
before sincerity is attained to clear himself from any 
charge of recommending ' intuition ' as an alternative 
to investigation. ' Intuition ' is the prerogative only 
of those who have attained to sincerity. It is only 
the superior man who ' naturally and easily embodies 


the right way '. And the superior man will know 
when his sincerity is insufficient and take ceaseless 
steps to remedy it. 'If another man (more sincere) 
succeed by one effort, he will use a hundred efforts. 
If another man succeed by ten efforts, he will use 
a thousand ' (Chung Yung, XX, 20). It is the 
sincerity to which the superior man has already 
attained which enables P him to know when it is 
insufficient ; if it does not yet enable him to embody 
the right way, it at least enables him to refrain from 
embodying the wrong, as those who trust intuition 
too soon are likely to do. Indeed, looking back over 
the history of thought, we might say, ' are certain 
to do ', so heavy are the probabilities against the 
success of guess-work. 

Sincerity, then, in this sense, is obedience to that 
tendency which * seeks ' a more perfect order within 
the mind. When the tendency is frustrated (e.g., by 
fatigue or by an idea or feeling that has lost its link 
with experience, or has become fixed beyond the 
possibility of change) we have insincerity. When 
confusion reigns and we are unable to decide what 
we think or feel (to be distinguished sharply from 
the case when decided thoughts or feelings are 
present, but we are unable to define or express them) 
we need be neither sincere nor insincere. We are 
in a transitional stage which may result in either. 
Most good critics will confess to themselves that 
this is the state in which a first reading of any poem 
of an unfamiliar type leaves them. They know that 
more study is needed if they are to achieve a genuine 
response, and they know this in virtue of the 
sincerity they have already attained. It follows that 
people with clear definite ideas and feelings, with 
a high degree of practical efficiency, may be in- 
sincere in this sense. Other kinds of sincerity, 
fidelity to convictions for example, will not save 
them, and indeed it may well be this fidelity which 


is thwarting the life of the spirit (Chung Yung, 
XXIV) in them. 

Any response (however mistaken from other 
points of view) which embodies the present activity 
of this tendency to inner adjustment will be sincere, 
and any response that conflicts with it or inhibits 
it will be insincere. Thus to be sincere is to act, 
feel and think in accordance with * one's true nature ', 
and to be insincere is to act, feel or think in a contrary 
manner. But the sense to be given to * one's true 
nature * is, as we have seen, a matter largely con- 
jectural. To define it more exactly would perhaps 
be tedious and, for our purposes here, needless. 
In practice we often seem to grasp it very clearly ; 
and all that I have attempted here is to sketch the 
state of affairs which we then seem to grasp. ' What 
heaven has conferred is man's Nature ; an accordance 
with this is the Path ' (Chung Yung, I). Sometimes 
we can be certain that we have left it. 1 

On the ways in which sincerity may be increased 
and extended Confucius is very definite. If we seek 
a standard for a new response whose sincerity may 
be in doubt, we shall find it, he says, in the very 
responses which make the new one possible. The 
pattern for the new axe-handle is already in our 
hand, though its very nearness, our firm possession 
of it, may hide it from us. We need, of course, 
a founded assurance of the sincerity of these in- 
strumental responses themselves, and this we can 
gain by comparison. What is meant by * making 
the thoughts sincere ' is the allowing no self- 
deception * as when we hate a bad smell, and as when 

1 Hut see Chung Yung, I, 2. ' The path may not be left for an 
instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path.' Possibly we 
can escape this difficulty by admitting that all mental activities are, 
to some degree, the operation of the tendency we have been speaking 
of. Thus all are the Path. But the Path can be obstructed, and may 
have loops. 'The regulation of (what keeps trim) the path is instruc- 
tion ^ (Chung Yung, I, i). 


we love what is beautiful ' (The Great Learning, 
VI, i). When we hate a bad smell we can have no 
doubt that our response is sincere. We can all, at 
least, find some responses beyond suspicion. These 
are our standard. By studying our sincerity in the 
fields in which we are fully competent we can extend 
it into the fields in which our ability is still feeling 
its way. This seems to fee the meaning of ' choosing 
what is good and firmly holding fast to it/ where 
c good ' stands not for our Western ethical notion 
so much as for the fit and proper, sane and healthy. 
The man who does not ' hate a bad smell ' * does not 
understand what is good ' ; having no basis or 
standards, ' he will not attain to sincerity '. 

Together with these, the simplest most definite 
responses, there may be suggested also, as standards 
for sincerity, the responses we make to the most 
baffling objects that can be presented to our con- 
sciousness. Something like a technique or ritual 
for heightening sincerity might well be worked out. 
When our response to a poem after our best efforts 
remains uncertain, when we are unsure whether the 
feelings it excites come from a deep source in our 
experience, whether our liking or disliking is genuine, 
is ours, or an accident of fashion, a response to 
surface detail or to essentials, we may perhaps help 
ourselves by considering it in a frame of feelings 
whose sincerity is beyond our questioning. Sit by 
the fire (with eyes shut and fingers pressed firmly 
upon the eyeballs) and consider with as full 
' realisation ' as possible : 

i. Man's loneliness (the isolation of the human 

ii. The facts of birth, and of death, in their 
inexplicable oddity. 

iii. The inconceivable immensity of the Universe. 


iv. Man's place in the perspective of time, 
v. The enormity of his ignorance, 

not as gloomy thoughts or as targets for doctrine, 
but as the most incomprehensible and inexhaustible 
objects for meditation there are ; then in the glow 
of their emotional reverberation pass the poem 
through the mind, silently * reciting it as slowly as it 
allows. Whether what it can stir in us is important 
or not to us will, perhaps, show itself then. Many 
religious exercises and some of the practices of 
divination and magic may be thought to be directed 
in part towards a similar quest for sanction, to be 
rituals designed to provide standards of sincerity. 

These are serious steps, it may be thought, to take 
in such a matter as the reading of poetry. But 
though sometimes the irresolute tide of impulses, 
whose hesitation has been our difficulty, is shallow, 
sometimes it is deep. And whether deep or shallow 
the sincerity of our response is all-important. It 
might be said, indeed, with some justice, that the 
value of poetry lies in the difficult exercise in sincerity 
it can impose upon its readers even more than upon 
the poet. 



Man lives that list, that leaning in the will 
No wisdom can forecast by gauge or guess, 
The selfless self of self, most strange, most still, 
Fast furled and all foredrawn to No or Yes. 


* MY children ', said Confucius once, ' why does no 
one of you study the Odes ? They are adapted to 
rouse the mind, to assist observation, to make people 
sociable, to excite indignation. They speak of duties 
far and near ; and it is from them that one becomes 
conversant with the names of many birds, beasts, 
plants and trees V 

In addition to these benefits many other advantages 
may be expected from the reading of poetry. It is 
these expectations, and their varying degrees of 
legitimacy and importance, that are the subject of 
this chapter. Few people approach poetry without 
expectations explicit or, more often, implicit. ' It 
is supposed that by the act of writing in verse an 
author makes a formal engagement that he will 

1 Analects, XVII, 9. 

The Odes: a compilation arranged and edited by Confucius himself, 
so that the philosopher's plaintive tone is intelligible. 

Observation : be used for purposes of self-contemplation (Legge). 
Very true and in more than one sense. 

Sociable : no longer true in England, distinctly so in America. 

To excite indignation : virtuous indignation (Jennings) ; to regulate 
feelings of resentment (Legge) ; possumus jure indignari (Zottoli). 
All these interpretations, too, seem justified by our protocols. 

Duties far and near: Cf. Treasure Island: ' " Dooty is dooty," says 
Captain Smollett, and right he is. Just you steer clear of the Cap'n."' 

Birds : especially noteworthy in view of twentieth-century English 
Poetry. And surely fishes should be added. 



gratify certain known habits of association ', said 
Wordsworth in his famous Preface. The reader need 
not know what he is expecting ; it is enough that he 
expects it. He will be gratified or annoyed accordingly. 

We may sort these expectations under two headings 
as they concern the means employed by the poet and 
the ends that he endeavour^ to attain ; but so much 
confusion exists between the two that they must 
first be considered together. Often a reader will 
not know in the least whether the demand he makes 
concerns the t one or the other, and without a good 
deal of evidence it may be difficult to decide the 
point for him. There is nothing surprising in this, 
for in no complex field of human activity is the 
distinction between means and ends easy to draw. 
And in the case of poetry an imposing doctrine of 
Formal Virtues has lately been in vogue, whose 
effect is simply to deny the distinction. If * Art 
for Art's Sake ', or ' Pure Poetry ', is in the back- 
ground of our minds 1 we may well despair of 
reaching any clarity in this matter. 

Before we begin again to dip for examples among 
the protocols a danger already mentioned in Part I 
may be recalled. We must not suppose that bad 
critical principles imply bad reading. A good reader 
may allege the most inept reasons for a judgment 
which in every other way is entirely to the point. 
It is not so much the stated reasons that we have to 
examine, as the actual influence of prior expectations, 
for good or ill. An illegitimate expectation, however, 
is always a threat to the reader ; it waits until his 
sensitiveness, his ' neural vigilance ', ebbs enough to 
leave him at its mercy. 

1 See Principles, Chs. II, X, XVIII, where the confusions which are 
responsible for such doctrines are discussed. The distinction between 
means and ends is not, of course, normally clear to the poet in the 
act of composition, or to the reader at the climax of his reading. But 
when the reader attempts to discuss the poem he ought at least to try 
to draw the distinction. 


Technical presuppositions, though they may trap 
even intelligent readers, are not a very interesting 
subject and may be dealt with briefly. They inter- 
fere whenever we make the mistake of supposing 
either that the means a poet uses are valuable for 
their own sake, or that they can be prescribed without 
reference to his aim, so tlpat by mere inquiry into the 
means we can conclude as to the value. Put in 
this form the mistake may seem too silly to be 
frequent, but in fact it is extremely insidious, for 
the language of criticism and many of its current 
assumptions invite us constantly to commit it. If 
we wish, as critics, to write what the cultivated 
unspecialised world will accept as a tolerable prose, 
we are often compelled, for example, to say things 
about the poem, or the words in it, which are only 
true of the effects of the poem upon the minds of 
its readers. We use a shorthand which identifies the 
ascribed rhythm of the poem with its actual sounds, 
the various meanings of the words with the words 
themselves, and our response to the whole poem 
with a character of the poem itself. We speak of 
the poem's beauty instead of entering upon elaborate 
and speculative analyses of its effect upon us. (We 
may, perhaps, be trusting that our more intelligent 
and informed readers will decode and expand our 
shorthand, but in fact few of them will do so.) And 
because we write in this way very ancient mental 
habits are restored to power in our own minds and 
we come temporarily ourselves to think that the 
virtues of a poem lie not in its power over us, but 
in its own structure and conformation as an assem- 
blage of verbal sounds. With this recrudescence of 
an attitude to language, which has long been obsolete 
and discredited for reflective persons, we become at 
once exposed to every kind of mistake and confusion. 
The frequency and variety of these dogmatic 
pronouncements upon detail, irrespective of the 


final result, are amply demonstrated in the protocols. 
Many were commented upon, as they appeared, in 
Part II ; but here may be listed some of the chief 
occasions for this blunder, if only to point a moral. 
No other critical moral, perhaps, deserves more 
insistence. The blunder in all cases is the attempt 
to assign marks independently to details that can only 
be judged fairly with reference to the whole final 
result to which they contribute. It is the blunder of 
attempting to say how the poet shall work without 
regard for what he is doing. I shall proceed from 
the more obvious to the more debatable instances. 

First among these representative occasions for 
folly may come Imperfect Rhymes (2-1-2-22, 3-1, 
3-41) and Metrical Irregularities (2-2, 3*44, 8-44, 
12-51, 13-61, 13-62), the Line-end Stop (8-33, 8-43) 
and Sonnet Form (3-1, 3-4, 3-41, 5-56, 6-4, 9-82, 
12-51). Next, perhaps, should come Cacophony 
(2-23, 3-4, 6-33, 10-42, 10-44) and Euphony (4-22, 
7-57), and the Intrinsic Qualities of Words (10-4, 
10-55). Then demands for Descriptive Accuracy 
(2-22, 8-15, 9-2) deserve mention, along with Vivid- 
ness (11-22), Logic (2-24), Unmixed Metaphor (6-41, 
10-61) and the various problems of figurative 
language discussed in Part III, Chapter II. 

More doubt may be felt about insistence upon 
Clarity (5-51, 6-37), Conciseness (13*65), Majesty 
in Epitaphs (11*43) and the demand for a Serious 
Subject or Message (2-3, 11-42, 13*8). But with 
this we pass to a border-line case where a Technical 
Presupposition may be indistinguishable from a 
critical preconception as to the aim of poetry. 

The writer of 2-3, for example, may be combining, 
along with his two other technical presuppositions, 
a requirement that the sense of the poem be im- 
portant when taken by itself. The verb * to say ', 
when used of poetry, is always ambiguous. It may 
be equivalent to ' communicate ' in which case, of 


course, every poem worthy of attention ' says * 
something of importance. But it may be equivalent 
to ' state ', and many great poems state nothing. 
Even when something important is stated, we should 
beware of considering the statement in isolation 
from its place in the poem. But on this enough has 
been said in the last chapter. 

In contrast to 2-3, the t*wo writers who follow (2-4 
and 2-41) seem to be showing a concern, not with 
the technique or detail of the poem, but with its 
general nature or with the result. Their demand 
for a serious subject may be a demand for an end, 
not for a means. And a serious subject may be 
only their name for a serious result. If so, we pass 
over to the more interesting question of the views 
that may be held as to the value of poetry and the 
influence of these views, whether they are held 
implicitly or explicitly, upon our reading and 

Technical presuppositions, as a rule, are not 
products of reflection. The man who supposes that 
rhymes must be perfect, that lines must not run over, 
that sonnets must have a definite division, that strict 
descriptive accuracy must be achieved, would usually, 
if challenged, admit that he saw no conclusive reason 
why these things should be so. Accidents of 
teaching, bad inductive inferences from a few salient 
examples, expectations we slip into without reflection, 
are responsible for most of this technical dogmatism. 
But general preconceptions as to the value of poetry 
are theories, that is to say, they are due to reflection ; 
and the sincerity and intelligence of this reflection 
can, it fortunately happens, be tested. The test is 
whether the values of poetry are described in a way 
which pretends to be directly serviceable in criticism. 

I can make this rather cryptic assertion clearer by 
a few examples. Let us take first the common 
theory that the value of poetry is in the value of its 


subject. It can be, and usually is, framed in such 
a way that we can very easily decide for ourselves, 
according to our tastes and temperament, about the 
value of the subject. A reader approaching Poem X 
or Poem XI 1 , for example, may say to himself, 
' Ah, this is a description of the experience of lying 
and looking at clouds ! ' He picks out something he 
can call the subject. Usually he has little difficulty 
in deciding about the value of this subject. He can 
then argue c It is good to lie and look at clouds ; this 
poem conveys the experience of lying and looking 
at clouds ; therefore, this poem is good '. (See 
10-2.) Or conversely : ' Lying and looking at 
clouds is a commonplace and trivial activity ; this 
poem represents such an activity ; therefore, this 
poem is commonplace and trivial '. (See 2-3, 4*24.) 
One might as well argue that a faithful portrait of 
a bad man is therefore a bad picture. 

Similarly, with the very frequent ' message ' 
theories. Half the readers of Poem /, especially 
i-iSi and i -21, will serve us as examples ; or 4-13, 
4-24, 4-28, 4-5 ; or 5-3, 5-32, 5'35>.5'38 ; or 7-2, 
7-34, 7-5 ; or 9-5, 9-51 ; the list might have been 
made much longer. The reader finds, or fails to 
find, something in the poem which seems to him 
' an inspiring message ', and argues from the presence 
or absence of this ' inspirational bit ' to the value or 
lack of value of the poem. It can hardly be doubted 
that this quest for a message, this preconception 
that the value of poetry is in its power to inspire us, 
is a strong influence in most readers' approach to 
poetry, and that it determines their reading and 
judgment in a high degree. What then is wrong 
with it ? 

It may help us to make the fundamental error of 
this approach clearer if we compare it with another 
case in which a similar preconception leads to 
similar indiscrimination and loss of values : the 


preconception in favour of ' lilt ' in poetry (4-16, 
4-22, 8-43, 12-41). Lilt is an excellent thing in its 
due place, but it does not give value to poetry unless 
the rest of the poem requires it, accords with it, con- 
ditions it and justifies it. (See Chapter IV above.) 
As an independent demand and a test for value, the 
quest for lilt makes us insusceptible to other more 
important movements wliich may be present in its 
place. It blinds us to more important things which 
the poet may be doing. So it is with the quest for 
' inspiring thoughts '. Sometimes they are in place 
who would deny it ? but to expect them is to grow 
blind to better things that poetry may offer. And, 
as we may observe if we watch one another, the 
' thirst for inspiration ' is as capable of refinement 
or crudity as any other thirst. 

The more refined and discriminating our precon- 
ception of poetry is, the more impossible any direct 
application becomes. A crude * subject-theory ' or 
' message-theory ' can be applied directly. It will 
enable us to conclude quickly and easily (and 
mistakenly) whether the poetry is good or bad. So 
too will theories that poetry must be * vivid ', simple', 
' musical ', * stirring ', ' passionate ', ' sensuous ', 
* impersonal ', or ' sincere Y in fact so will any 
theory that gives us a definite character that we can 
look for in a poem and decide is present or absent. 
An enormous amount of trouble has been devoted 
to the discovery of such keys, and to making them 
more and more complex. This trouble, if what we 
are seeking is a key, is wasted. But if what \ye are 
seeking is not a key, but an understanding of the 
whole matter, and particularly of the reasons why 
no such keys can be used, then the trouble is very 

1 It may be thought that, on my own showing in the preceding 
chapter, I should make an exception of sincerity. But it is only in 
the conjectural Confucian sense that we could take sincerity as a 
criterion of excellence in poetry ; and on this see p. 301 below. Some 
kinds of insincerity are perhaps useful negative indications. 


well rewarded. For the more thoroughly we work 
out our account of the differences between good and 
bad poetry the more intricate and complex the 
account becomes. Alternatives, conditions, qualifica- 
tions, compensating conditions . . . and the rest, 
force themselves into it under the pressure of the 
facts, until it becomes evi4ent that a direct practical 
application of an adequate account to any poem is 
impossible. It is much easier to decide that a poem 
is good or bad than to frame a description of its 
merits and decide whether this description applies 
to it. 

We might be tempted to conclude from this that 
inquiry into the differences between good and bad 
in poetry is futile, and that indulgence in it is an 
example of academic fatuity. But this conclusion 
will be seen, I hope, to be a mistake. The physical 
sciences offer innumerable parallels. It is much 
easier, for example, to tell whether a falling stone 
on a mountain is likely to hit you or not than to 
collect the necessary data and calculate its trajectory. 
None the less the mathematical and physical theories 
that here seem so useless have innumerable indirect 
and roundabout applications. (Not two of my 
readers in a hundred would be alive without them. 
Such has been the effect of the steamship, itself 
a result of Galileo, upon civilisation !) And though 
all the theory in the world does not make it possible 
to be sure that we shall not be hit, it can at least 
satisfy us that the stone is not a hostile magician in 
disguise, and that incantations will not appreciably 
divert it from its course. 

Most critical dogmas, preconceptions of the kind 
that can be and are applied to poetry, have almost 
exactly the intellectual standing and the serviceable- 
ness of primitive ' superstitions '. They rest upon 
our desire for explanation, our other desires, our 
respect for tradition, and to a slight degree upon 


faulty induction. Sometimes, by good fortune, they 
are useful ; on the whole they make us much more 
stupid than we would be without them. Only such 
an experiment as that which produced the protocols 
(a small selection only of the harvest and not, in this 
respect, a selection of extreme examples) can convince 
anyone of the extent of their interference. 

They interfere in two different ways. By blinding 
the reader to what else is in the poem, so that he 
forces his predilection, if he can, upon the poem 
rejecting, comparatively unread, poems that will not 
allow it. Secondly, by blurring and disabling his 
judgment. Any general theory that we may be 
tempted to apply to poetry and continue to apply, 
must unless we are very Napoleonic readers be 
of the kind which disguises great vagueness and 
ambiguity behind an appearance of simplicity and 
precision. Most critical key -words excel in this 
duplicity, as we have seen with ' sentimental ' and 
with ' sincere '. Supplied with one of these words 
* sincere ' is a great favourite in its primitive un- 
analysed condition we have the poem up before 
us and apply the test. There will probably be from 
seven to eleven senses, more or less important, all 
confusedly among the possibilities of the word in 
the context. The word is the meeting-point of these 
senses, which without this common outlet of ex- 
pression might never run any risk of being confused. 
Such words, like blunderbusses, cover much ground ; 
yet it is quite easy to suppose that only one unambigu- 
ous (though, of course, ' subtle ') meaning is present. 
Words like * sincerity ', ' truth ', ' sentimentality ', 
1 expression ', * belief ', ' form ', ' significance ', and 
' meaning ' itself, seem to those who rely on them 
to hit the mark repeatedly in an almost miraculous 
fashion. But this is only because a cloud of 
heterogeneous missiles instead of a single meaning 
is discharged on each occasion, and the marksman- 


ship is no more notable than the similar exploits at 
a Buffalo Bill's Wild Western Show. What is 
wonderful is the naivety of the spectators, and of 
the performers, who here have no suspicion that 
with such words a total miss is almost an impossi- 
bility. But to discover which missile hit what on any 
occasion is not at all an easy matter. 

The result of a highly ambiguous though simple- 
seeming doctrine, when it collaborates with our well 
ascertained capacity to read poems much as we wish 
to read them, is to disable our judgment to a point 
well below its normal unindoctrinated level. Or 
rather, to put the point in a better way a way that 
more clearly reflects the operations of our minds 
the result of doctrine is to transform what was 
choice into judgment. Judgment in these matters is 
not a refinement upon choice (as it is in legal matters), 
but a degradation ; it is a disguise which hampers 
and confuses an activity of choice which to the end 
remains the animating spirit beneath all the trappings 
of judgment. 

All critical doctrines are attempts to convert 
choice into what may seem a safer activity the 
reading evidence and the application of rules and 
principles. They are an invasion into an inappro- 
priate sphere of that modern transformation, the 
displacement of the will by observation and judgment. 
Instead of deciding that we are too cold or too warm 
we hang up a thermometer. Perhaps wisely, for 
our feelings here are not altogether to be trusted 
since the invention of central heating. But in 
poetry our feelings (in the large sense which x makes 
them as much currents in our will as objects to 
introspection) are in the end the whole matter. We 
cannot substitute for them any poetic-thermometer 
in the form of any doctrine whatsoever without being 
betrayed. The only exception would be some 
doctrine such as the account of sincerity fathered 


on Confucius in the last chapter which amounts to 
making the discernment of what is good a matter of 
choice. But it must be an essential not an arbitrary 
choice, one which expresses the needs of the being 
as a whole, not a random gust of desire or the 
obstructing capacity of some dead member. 

Thus no theory, no description, of poetry can be 
trusted which is not too intricate to be applied This 
may be what Blake meant by saying that ' Virtue 
resides only in minute particulars '. Value in poetry 
turns nearly always upon differences and connections 
too minute and unobtrusive to be directly perceived. 
We recognise them only in their effects. Just as the 
differences of phase through which we locate sounds 
in space are too slight in their auditory effects to be 
discriminated, 1 yet through their ocular reflexes 
perfectly fulfil their function ; so the differences 
between good and bad poetry may be indiscernible 
to direct attention yet patent in their effects upon 
feeling. The choice of our whole personality may 
be the only instrument we possess delicate enough 
to effect the discrimination. 

When we have the poem in all its minute particulars 
as intimately and as fully present to our minds as 
we can contrive no general description of it but 
the very experience itself present as a living pulse in 
our biographies then our acceptance or rejection of 
it must be direct. There comes a point in all criticism 
where a sheer choice has to be made without the 
support of any arguments, principles, or general 
rules. All .that arguments or principles can do is 
to protect us from irrelevancies, red-herrings and 
disturbing preconceptions. They may remind us 
perhaps, that every poem has many more aspects 
than are presented on one occasion. They may help 
us to bring more of our personality to bear upon the 
poem than we otherwise might do. They certainly 

1 See Piron, Thought and the Brain. Part II, ch. iv. 


can prevent us from judging by the detail rather 
than by the whole. They may preserve us from 
bad arguments but they cannot supply good ones. 
So complex is poetry. And in general if we find 
ourselves, near this crucial point of choice, looking 
for help from arguments, we may suspect that we 
are on the wrong track. The point is critical in 
the secondary sense too, for it is in these moments 
of sheer decision that the mind becomes most 
plastic, and selects, at the incessant multiple shifting 
cross-roads, the direction of its future development. 

The critical act is the starting-point, not the 
conclusion, of an argument. The personality stands 
balanced between the particular experience which is 
the realised poem and the whole fabric of its past 
experiences and developed habits of mind. What 
is being settled is whether this new experience can 
or cannot be taken into the fabric with advantage. 
Would the fabric afterwards be better or worse ? 
Often it must be the case that the new modification 
of experience would improve the fabric if it could 
be taken in, but too much reconstruction would be 
needed. The strain, the resistance, is too great, and 
the poem is rejected. Sometimes nothing essential 
in the fabric prevents the incorporation of the poem. 
Only some slight unnecessary fold or twist or crumple, 
or some piece of adventitious scaffolding stands 
in the way, a result of clumsy thinking rather than 
a flaw or malformation in the self. Yet these 
obstructions may cut us off from the thing we most 
need. Among these accidents inadequate critical 
theories, withholding what we need and imposing 
upon us what we do not need, are sadly too frequent 
in our minds. 

The critic himself, of course, in the moment of 
choice knows nothing about all this. He may feel 
the strain. He may notice the queer shifts of 
emotional perspective that may affect all his other 


thoughts as his mind tries, now in one way now 
in another, to fit itself to the poem. He will sense 
an obscure struggle as the poem's secret allies and 
enemies manoeuvre within him. When these in- 
ternal parties in dispute cannot escape their deadlock, 
or sit down to a war of attrition, he will know, if he 
is sincere, that any decision he takes about the 
poem is merely a postponement. For it is not only 
his opinion about it which is unsettled, but the form 
and order of his personality itself. He will do well 
to make a temporary decision however, and persuade 
himself provisionally either of its excellence or its 
demerits. The experiment often stirs the internal 
dispute into a healthy movement. And the 
oppression which follows the forced acceptance 
of a bad poem may give its enemies their chance 
for a revolution. But when the conflict resolves 
itself, when the obstruction goes down or the crumple 
is straightened out, when an old habit which has been 
welcoming a bad poem is revivified into a fresh 
formation, or a new limb which has grown to meet 
a good poem wakes into life, the mind clears, and 
new energy wells up ; after the pause a collectedness 
supervenes ; behind our rejection or acceptance 
(even of a minor poem) we feel the sanction and 
authority of the self-completing spirit. 

This amounts, perhaps, to a claim that a certain 
kind of critical choice is infallible. We know only 
too well what to expect when a man begins by saying 
' Of course, we are all fallible. . . '. We are in for 
some impudent affirmation or other. What ought 
we to divine in an author who ends by announcing 
that we are all infallible ? Doubt, presumably ; 
doubt in every direction and to the extremest degree. 

I am anxious not to disappoint this expectation. 
Indeed I would infect these last pages, if I could, 
with such a virulent culture of doubt that all critical 
certainties, except one, would wither in the minds 


of all their readers. Points of analysis would 
remain unaffected, since these are but tentative 
explorations of a subject-matter which future inquiries 
will penetrate far more deeply. But critical cer- 
tainties, convictions as to the value, and kinds of 
value, of kinds of poetry, might safely and with 
advantage decay, provided f there remained a firm 
sense of the importance of the critical act of choice, 
its difficulty, and the supreme exercise of all our 
faculties that it imposes. Mere acquiescent im- 
mersion in good poetry can give us, of course, much 
that is valuable. Acquiescent immersion in bad 
poetry entails a corresponding penalty. But the 
greater values can only be gained by making poetry 
the occasion for those momentous decisions of the 
will. The alluring solicitancy of the bad, the secret 
repugnancy of the good are too strong for us in most 
reading of poetry. Only by penetrating far more 
whole-mindedly into poetry than we usually attempt, 
and by collecting all our energies in our choice, can 
we overcome these treacheries within us. That is 
why good reading, in the end, is the whole secret of 
' good judgment '. 



Mencius said : ' The son of the K'ung Clan (Confucius) 
climbed the Eastern Hillock and thought the State of 
Lu looked small ; he climbed the Great Mountain arid 
found All-below-the-sky inconsiderable. He who has 
gazed upon the ocean scorns other waters ; and he who 
has entered in at the gate of enlightened men is critical 
of words.' 


The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor. 


THREE tasks remain, and this final part is accordingly 
divided under three heads. Under the first, I discuss 
the current state of culture, as it is indicated in the 
protocols, and some inferences to be drawn from it ; 
under the second, the services that psychological 
theory may afford us here, its uses and limitations ; 
under the third, the practical measures that seem 
advisable and possible. It is not inevitable, or in the 
nature of things, that poetry should seem such a 
remote, mysterious, unmanageable thing to so large 
a majority of readers. The deficiencies so noticeable 
in the protocol writers (and, if we could be franker 
with ourselves, in our own reading) are not native 
inalterable defects in the average human mind. They 
are due in a large degree to mistakes that can be 
avoided, and to bad training. In fact, does anyone 
ever receive any useful training in this matter ? Yet, 
without asking more from average humanity than 
even a misanthrope will grant, something can be 
done to make men's spiritual heritage more available 
and more operative. Though I may seem to be 
traversing, in what follows, ground with which every 
teacher (and every person thrust into close contact 
with humanity) is familiar to the point of desperation, 
I am confident that the last word in this matter has 
not been spoken. A better technique, as we learn 
daily in other fields, may yield results that the most 
whole-hearted efforts fall short of if misapplied. And 



the technique of the approach to poetry has not yet 
received half so much serious systematic study as 
the technique of pole-jumping. If it is easy to push 
up the general level of performance in such ' natural ' 
activities as running or jumping (not to insist upon 
the more parallel examples of mountaineering, fly- 
fishing and golf) merely by making a little careful 
inquiry into the best methods, surely there is reason 
to expect that investigation into the technique of 
reading may have even happier results. With this 
not extravagant hope to encourage us, let us try to 
see what exactly is needed, and what is within our 
power to do. 


i. The standing of the men and women who 
supplied the protocols has been described in Part I 
(p. 3). With few exceptions they are products of the 
most expensive kind of education. I would like to 
repeat, with emphasis, that there is no reason what- 
ever to suppose that a higher capacity for reading 
poetry will be manifested by any similar group any- 
where in the world. Sons and daughters of other 
Universities who are tempted to think otherwise may 
be invited to bring experimental evidence collected 
under the same conditions. But no experienced 
teacher will be surprised by any of the protocols ; 
no teacher, at least, who has refrained from turning 
his pupils into sounding-boards that reflect his own 
opinions. And, candidly, how many of us are con- 
vinced, with reason, that we would have made a 
better showing ourselves under these conditions ? 

2. Immaturity. Thus the gaps in these readers' 
equipment are very significant. First may be placed 
the general immaturity of the readers. Their average 
age would be between nineteen and twenty. Yet 
with several of the poems (notably Poems /, // and 


XIII) one important reason for erratic opinions 
seems undeniably to be lack of general experience, 
I wish very much that I could include as a frontis- 
piece a good group photograph of the protocol- 
writers. It would help us to realise, better than 
pages of discussion, the concrete significance of some 
of these revelations. Statistics as to the proportion 
of the writers who are going later to be teachers 
would also assist this realisation. Yet it may be 
doubted whether any large proportion of those who 
showed themselves to be under age not in intelli- 
gence alone but in emotional development also are 
destined to become much more mature with the 
passage of time. In some respects the years will do 
their work, for good and ill, but in others (cf. Ch. V, 
p. 291) there is little reason to expect any essential 
change. Much though there is to be said, on general 
anthropological grounds, in favour of a delayed 
maturity, an educational and social system which 
encourages a large proportion of its most endowed 
and favoured products to remain children permanently 
is exposing itself to danger. The point is a familiar 
one ; I merely bring my mite of evidence. 

3. Lack of Reading. A strong suspicion that I 
developed in looking over the protocols, that the 
women- writers were of higher average discernment 
than the men, is perhaps relevant in this connection. 
For the young woman of nineteen is generally 
supposed to be nearer to her final settled character, 
in most respects, than the equivalent young man. A 
better explanation would be the greater familiarity 
with poetry that is certainly possessed by the average 
girl. A lack of experience with poetry must be 
placed next to general inexperience of life in this 
list of deficiencies. A large number of writers showed 
clearly (a fact which one knew well enough already) 
that they had hardly any reading at all to serve them 


as a background and means of orientation. And those 
readers who did try to use their background often 
proved the naivety of their outlook and the poverty 
of their literary experience by the comparisons and 
identifications they made. Apart from this wide 
experience it is hard to see how any but the most 
gifted readers can help being impressed, for example, 
by work which is merely & feeble echo of something 
else. We may sometimes say, then, that it is the 
original work which is at second-hand the source of 
the impression. We must acknowledge that very 
much of the worship that a more experienced and 
better reader may condemn as too facile is merely 
faute de mieux worship. Also, but more rarely, the 
condition of poetic starvation appears. The reader, 
having discovered some value in poetry, swallows all 
he can of it for a while, hoping that it will do him 
good, and improve his taste, even when he does not 
really like it. But there is not a great deal of this in 
our examples. We could have safely inferred from 
the protocols that the relatively cultivated youth of 
our age spends extremely little of its time over poetry, 

4. Construing. Partly to this well-recognised 
fact, but partly to more interesting causes, we may 
trace the widespread inability to construe meaning, 
which is perhaps the deficiency made most apparent 
in my selections. But it is not only those with little 
experience of poetry who fail in this. Some who 
appear to have read widely seem to make little or no 
endeavour to understand, or, at least, to remain 
strangely unsuccessful. Indeed, the more we study 
this matter the more we shall find ' a love for poetry ' 
accompanied by an incapacity to understand or con- 
strue it. This construing, we must suppose, is not 
nearly so easy and ' natural ' a performance as we 
tend to assume. It is a craft, in the sense that 
mathematics, cooking, and shoemaking are crafts. 


It can be taught. And though some gifted individuals 
can go far in the strength of their own sagacity alone, 
instruction and practice are very necessary for others. 
The best methods of instruction remain to be worked 
out. At present, apart from not very satisfactory 
exercises in translation from other languages and 
some still less satisfactory experiments with precis 
writing and paraphrasing, ! this instruction ceases at 
too early a stage. No attempt at imparting a reasoned 
general technique for construing has yet been made. 
Perhaps because the need for it has not been 
sufficiently realised. Two problems for reflection, 
suggested by this low capacity in construing, may be 
noted, (i) What is the worth of poetry for readers 
who cannot make out what it means ? (2) How far 
can we expect such readers to show themselves 
intelligent, imaginative and discriminating in their 
intimate relations with other human beings ? Neither 
question can be answered summarily, certainly not 
the second (see 10, below). But it is not doubtful 
that certain 4 sentimental ' addictions to poetry are of 
little value, or that this poor capacity to interpret 
complex and unfamiliar meanings is a source of 
endless loss, for those whose lives need not be 
narrowly standardised at a low level. If anything 
can be done, educationally, that is not already being 
done to improve it, the attempt would be worth much 
trouble. This defect in our equipment is so essential 
a point for any student of poetry to realise, and so 
neglected, that I need not apologise for the emphasis 
laid upon it in what follows. 

5. Stock Responses. Closely connected with this 
incapacity to apprehend unusual meanings is the 
fatal facility with which usual meanings reappear 
when they are not wanted. Great stress was laid in 
Part III upon this tendency of our acquired responses 
to intervene in situations to which they are not 


appropriate, and little need be added here. If we 
wish for a population easy to control by suggestion 
we shall decide what repertory of suggestions it shall 
be susceptible to and encourage this tendency except 
in the few. But if we wish for a high and diffused 
civilisation, with its attendant risks, we shall combat 
this form of mental inertia. In either case, since 
most of the protocol writers would certainly regard 
themselves as belonging to the few, rather than the 
many, were such a division to be proposed, we shall 
do well to recognise how much of the value of 
existence is daily thrust from us by our stock re- 
sponses, necessary though a substratum of stable and 
routine mental habits may be. 

6. Preconceptions. As special cases of these in- 
appropriate acquired responses : certain tests, criteria 
and presuppositions as to what is to be admired or 
despised in poetry proved their power to hide what 
was actually present. A pretension to knowledge of 
such criteria is sometimes linked with a certain 
temptation, never lurking far below the surface, to 
teach the poet his business. But, apart from this 
motive, a serious but less arrogant reader, unpro- 
vided with any such criteria, theories and principles, 
often feels himself distressingly at a loss before a 
poem. Too sheer a challenge to his own unsupported 
self seems to be imposed. The desire to condense 
his past experience, or to invoke doughty authority, 
in the form of a critical maxim, is constantly over- 
whelming. Without some objective criteria, by which 
poetry can be tested, and the good distinguished 
from the bad, he feels like a friendless man deprived 
of weapons and left naked at the mercy of a treacher- 
ous beast. We decided that the treacherous beast 
was within him, that critical weapons unless too 
elaborate to be employed would only hurt him, 
that his own experience not as represented in a 


formula but in its available entirety was his only 
safeguard, and that if he could rely sufficiently upon 
this, he could only profit from his encounter with the 

7. Bewilderment. But this advice, however well 
meant, can perhaps only further perplex that great 
body of readers whose first and last reaction to poetry 
(it is hardly a response) is bewilderment. An over- 
tone of despairing helplessness haunts the protocols 
in a degree that my selections do not sufficiently 
display. I omitted a great mass of sit-on-the-fence 
opinion. Without further clues (authorship, period, 
school, the sanction of an anthology, or the hint of a 
context) the task of ' making up their minds about 
it ', or even of working out a number of possible 
views from which to choose, was felt to be really 
beyond their powers. The extraordinary variety of 
the views put forward, and the reckless, desperate 
character of so many of them, indicate the difficulty 
that was felt, and how unprepared for such a testing 
encounter the majority of the readers were. It 
should surely be possible, even without devoting 
more time or trouble to the reading of English than 
is given at present, to prepare them better, and make 
them more reasonably self-reliant. 

8. Authority. The protocols show, equally, how 
entirely a matter of authority the rank of famous 
poets, as it is accepted and recognised by public 
opinion, must be. Without the control of this rather 
mysterious, traditional authority, poets of the most 
established reputations would very quickly and sur- 
prisingly change their places in general approval. 
This is, if we pursue it, a disturbing reflection, for it 
should lead us to question very closely the quality 
of the reading \ve ordinarily give to authors \vhose 
rank and character have been officially settled. There 
cannot be much doubt that when we know we are 


reading Milton or Shelley, a great deal of our 
approval and admiration is being accorded not to the 
poetry but to an idol. Conversely, if we did not 
know that we were reading Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 
much of our amusement or patronising condescension 
might easily be absent. Far more than we like to 
admit, we take a hint fqr our response from the 
poet's reputation. Whether we assent or dissent, 
the traditional view runs through our response like 
the wire upon which a climbing plant is trained. 
And without it there is no knowing at what con- 
clusion we might not have arrived. 

The attempt to read without this guidance puts a 
strain upon us that we are little accustomed to. 
Within limits it is a salutary strain. We learn how 
much we are indebted to the work of other minds 
that have established the tradition, at the same time 
that we become aware of its dangers. And we dis- 
cover what a comparatively relaxed and inattentive 
activity our ordinary reading of established poetry is. 
Even those who have won a deserved eminence 
through their critical ability, who have worthily 
occupied Chairs of Poetry and taken their part in 
handing on the torch of tradition retrimmed, would 
probably admit in their secret souls that they had 
not read many poems with the care and attention 
that these anonymous items, under these conditions, 
invite. But while we become, through such reflec- 
tions, on the one hand more ready to question 
tradition, we become on the other more sensible of 
our dependence upon it. 

9. Variability. It was interesting to observe the 
wide range of quality that many individual readers 
varied through. They would pass, with contiguous 
poems, from a very high level of discernment to a 
relatively startling obtuseness, and often force one 
to consider very closely whether what appeared to be 


so stupid did not mask unexpected profundity, and 
whether the obtuseness was really where one hoped 
it was. The odds, I know, are much against my 
having escaped this danger. I have not illustrated 
these variations, for such studies of individual readers 
would have taken this book too far from its main 
path, and made what is already a complex investiga- 
tion too unwieldy. Nor have I attempted to trace 
carefully any correlations between approval of one 
type of poem and disapproval of another, and so 
forth. I have only a strong impression that such 
correlations would be difficult to find ; as, indeed, 
on theoretical grounds seeing how complex the 
conditions are we should expect. But this in- 
dividual variability in discernment was striking 
enough to deserve notice. It has the comforting 
moral attached to it that however baffled we may be 
by one poem, we may still be extraordinarily acute 
with another with a poem perhaps that to most 
readers proves more difficult. Some of these un- 
evennesses may be put down to fatigue. I am 
inclined to think that four poems are too many for a 
week's reading absurd though this suggestion will 
seem to those godlike lords of the syllabus-world, 
who think that the whole of English Literature can 
be perused with profit in about a year ! 

But apart from fatigue there are other very evident 
reasons why critical capacity should vary. ' Making 
up our minds about a poem ' is the most delicate 
of all possible undertakings. We have to gather 
millions of fleeting semi-independent impulses into 
a momentary structure of fabulous complexity, whose 
core or germ only is given us in the words. What 
we ' make up ', that momentary trembling order in 
our minds, is exposed to countless irrelevant in- 
fluences. Health, wakefulness, distractions, hunger 
and other instinctive tensions, the very quality of 
the air we breathe, the humidity, the light, all affect 


us. No one at all sensitive to rhythm, for example, 
will doubt that the new pervasive, almost ceaseless, 
mutter or roar of modern transport, replacing the 
rhythm of the footstep or of horses' hoofs, is capable 
of interfering in many ways with our reading of 
verse. 1 Thus it is no matter for surprise if we find 
ourselves often unable tc, respond in any relevant 
and coherent fashion. 

What is indeed remarkable is that we should 
pretend that we can even usually do so. We should 
be better advised to acknowledge frankly that, when 
people put poems in our hands (point to pictures, 
or play us music), what we say, in nine cases out of 
ten, has nothing to do with the poem, but arises 
from politeness or spleen or some other social motive. 
It cannot arise from the poem if the poem is not yet 
there in our minds, and it hardly ever, in fact, is 
there, under such public and hurried conditions 
of reading. It would be an excellent thing if all 
the critical chitchat which we produce on these 
occasions were universally recognised to be what it 
is, social gesture, ' phatic communion '. But though 
people to whom tone is more interesting than either 
sense or feeling have always treated it as such, the 
sincere and innocent reader is much too easily 
bounced into emptying his mind by any literary 
highwayman who says, ' I want your opinion ', and 
much too easily laid low because he has nothing to 
produce on these occasions. He might be com- 
forted if he knew how many professionals make a 
point of carrying stocks of imitation currency, crisp 
and bright, which satisfy the highwaymen and are 
all that even the wealthiest critic in these emergencies 
can supply. 

1 Mr T. S. Eliot, than whom there could be no more qualified 
observer, has suggested that the internal combustion engine may 
already have altered our perception of rhythms. (Preface to 
Savonarola, by Charlotte Eliot.) 


10. General Values. It is natural to inquire how 
far insensitiveness, poor discrimination, and a feeble 
capacity to understand poetry imply a corresponding 
inability to apprehend and make use of the values of 
ordinary life. This is a large and awkward question 
which we shall answer in different ways as our 
experience varies. Two Answers, however, would 
certainly be wrong : the view that a man who is 
stupid with poetry must be as stupid with life, and 
the view that obtuseness in literary matters implies 
no general disabilities. Doubtless to some degree 
poetry, like the other arts, is a secret discipline to 
which some initiation is needed. Some readers are 
excluded from it simply because they have never 
discovered, and have never been taught, how to 
enter. Poetry translates into its special sensory 
language a great deal that is given in the ordinary 
daily intercourse between minds by gesture, tones 
of voice, and expression, and a reader who is very 
quick and discerning in these matters may fail for 
purely technical reasons to apprehend the very same 
things when they are given in verse. He will be in 
the same sad case as those Bubis of Fernando Po, 
who need to see one another before they understand 
what is said. On the other hand, it is sometimes not 
difficult in reading through the protocols to dis- 
tinguish those who are incapacitated by this ignor- 
ance and lack of skill in reading from those whose 
failure has deeper causes. And, moreover, those who 
have naturally a fine imagination and discrimination, 
who have a developed sensibility to the values of life, 
do seem to find the password to poetry with great 
ease. For there is no such gulf between poetry and 
life as over-literary persons sometimes suppose. 
There is no gap between our everyday emotional life 
and the material of poetry. The verbal expression 
of this life, at its finest, is forced to use the technique 
of poetry ; that is the only essential difference. We 


cannot avoid the material of poetry. If we do not live 
in consonance with good poetry, we must live in 
consonance with bad poetry. And, in fact, the idle 
hours of most lives are filled with reveries that are 
simply bad private poetry. On the whole evidence, 
I do not see how we can avoid the conclusion that a 
general insensitivity to poetry does witness a low 
level of general imaginative life. There are other 
reasons for thinking that this century is in a cultural 
trough rather than upon a crest. I need not expatiate 
here upon them. But the situation appears suffi- 
ciently serious to force us to consider very carefully 
what influences are available as remedies. When 
nature and tradition, or rather our contemporary 
social and economic conditions, betray us, it is 
reasonable to reflect whether we cannot deliberately 
contrive artificial means of correction. 

It is arguable that mechanical inventions, with 
their social effects, and a too sudden diffusion of 
indigestible ideas, are disturbing throughout the 
world the whole order of human mentality, that our 
minds are, as it were, becoming of an inferior shape 
thin, brittle and patchy, rather than controllable 
and coherent. It is possible that the burden of 
information and consciousness that a growing mind 
has now to carry may be too much for its natural 
strength. If it is not too much already, it may soon 
become so, for the situation is likely to grow worse 
before it is better. Therefore, if there be any means 
by which we may artificially strengthen our minds' 
capacity to order themselves, we must avail ourselves 
of them. And of all possible means, Poetry, the 
unique, linguistic instrument by which our minds 
have ordered their thoughts, emotions, desires . . . 
in the past, seems to be the most serviceable. It 
may well be a matter of some urgency for us, in the 
interests of our standard of civilisation, to make this 
highest form of language more accessible. From 


the beginning civilisation has been dependent upon 
speech, for words are our chief link with the past 
and with one another and the channel of our spiritual 
inheritance. As the other vehicles of tradition, the 
family and the community, for example, are dis- 
solved, we are forced more and more to rely upon 
language. 9 

Yet, as the protocols show, such reliance as we 
place in it at present is quite unjustified. Not a 
tenth of the power of poetry is released for the 
general benefit, indeed, not a thousandth part. It 
fails, not through its own fault, but through our 
ineptitude as readers. Is there no means to give the 
' educated ' individual a better receptive command 
of these resources of language ? 


ii. Abuse of Psychology. The psychologist is 
properly suspect to-day when he approaches these 
topics. A shudder is a likely, and to some degree a 
justified, response to the suggestion that he can be 
called in to assist us in reading poetry. Statistical 
inquiries into the * efficiency ' of different forms of 
composition, into types of imagery, into the relative 
frequency of verbs and adjectives, of liquids, sibilants 
and fricatives in various authors ; classifications of 
literary ' motives ', of ' drives ' that may be employed 
by writers ; inquiries into the proportions of * sex- 
appeal ' present ; measurements of * emotional re- 
sponse ', of * facility in integration ', of * degree of 
retention of effects ' ; or gradings of ' artistically 
effective associations ' ; such things will make any 
reader of poetry feel curiously uncomfortable. And 
it is worse still with the efforts of some psycho- 
analysts to elucidate masterpieces which they are 
clearly approaching for the first time and only for 


this purpose. Poetry has suffered too much already 
from those who are merely looking for something to 
investigate and those who wish to exercise some 
cherished theory. The best among the experi- 
mentalists and the analysts will agree over this. 

But between these two extreme wings of the 
psychological forces there is the comparatively 
neglected and unheard-oi' middle body, the cautious, 
traditional, academic, semi-philosophical psycho- 
logists who have been profiting from the vigorous 
manoeuvres of the advanced wings and are now much 
more ready than they were twenty years ago to take 
a hand in the application of the science. The general 
reader, whose ideas as to the methods and endeavours 
of psychologists derive more from the popularisers 
of Freud or from the Behaviourists than from 
students of Stout or Ward, needs perhaps some 
assurance that it is possible to combine an interest 
and faith in psychological inquiries with a due 
appreciation of the complexity of poetry. Yet a 
psychologist who belongs to this main body is 
perhaps the last person in the world to underrate 
this complexity. Unfortunately, the subject-matter 
of psychology to a centrist is so immense that few 
have been able to devote much attention to literature. 
Thus this field has been left rather too open to 
irresponsible incursions. 

12. Profanation. If we propose to look closely 
into the mental processes active in the reading of 
poetry a certain reluctance or squeamishness will 
often be felt. * We murder to dissect ', someone will 
murmur. This prejudice must be countered. No 
psychological dissection can do harm, except to 
minds which are in a pathological condition. The 
fear that to look too closely may be damaging to 
what we care about is a sign of a weak or ill-balanced 
interest. There is a certain frivolity of the passions 


that does not imply a greater delicacy, a more perfect 
sensibility, but only a trifling or flimsy constitution. 
Those who ' care too much for poetry ' to examine 
it closely are probably flattering themselves. Such 
exquisites may be pictured explaining their objections 
to Coleridge or to Schiller. 

But we should recognise how grim the prospect 
would be if these scruples were justified. For it is 
as certain as anything can be that in time psychology 
will overhaul most of our ideas about ourselves, and 
will give us a very detailed account of our mental 
activities. I am not prepared to argue that the 
acceptance of inept ideas about ourselves will not 
prove damaging. Damage is very likely already 
being done, in America and elsewhere, by elementary 
courses in Behaviourism, and by a too simplified 
stimulus-response psychology. Yet it is not the 
inquiry which is harmful, but the stopping short of 
inquiry. It would be better, no doubt, for the 
immediate prospects of poetry that we should content 
ourselves with our traditional notions than accept in 
their place ideas too simple to mark any of the dis- 
tinctions which matter the ' spiritual ' distinctions. 
But this is not the only option we are allowed. A 
naturalistic psychology that observes these finer 
distinctions is possible, though civilisation is perhaps 
in for a bad time before it arrives, and has become 
generally accepted. Watson in place of the Bible, or 
in place of Confucius or Buddha, as a source of our 
fundamental conceptions about ourselves is an alarm- 
ing prospect. But the remedy of putting the clock 
back is impracticable. Inquiry cannot be stopped 
now. The only possible course is to hasten, so far 
as we can, the development of a psychology which 
will ignore none of the facts and yet demolish none 
of the values that human experience has shown to be 
necessary. An account of poetry will be a pivotal 
point in such a psychology. 


13. Prudential Speech. The understanding of 
speech is an art which we are supposed to acquire 
chiefly by the light of nature through the operation 
of sundry instincts and to perfect by dint of practice. 
That in most cases it remains very imperfect indeed 
is the principal contention of this book. During the 
earlier stages of the acquisition of language in child- 
hood and early years at school it is possible that 
nature works well enough, though the researches of 
Piaget 1 suggest that considerable assistance might be 
given. But after a certain stage, when the individual 
has become fairly competent, the pressure of the 
need to understand ever more and more finely 
relaxes. Errors and failures no longer so clearly 
entail the penalty of being left out. Nor are they so 
easily exposed. A child of eight is constantly made 
to feel that he is not understanding something. At 
eighteen he may misunderstand nearly as often, but 
the testing instance, which makes him realise that 
this is so, infrequently arises. Unless either his 
company or his studies are exceptional, he will rarely 
be forced to face any such disagreeable facts. For 
he will have acquired enough skill in the reproduction 
of more or less appropriate language to disguise most 
of his failures both from the world and from himself. 
He can answer questions in a way which may con- 
vince everybody, himself included, that he under- 
stands them. He may be able to translate difficult 
passages with every sign of discernment, write pass- 
able essays and converse with great apparent intelli- 
gence upon many subjects. Yet in spite of these 
acquirements he may be making at innumerable 
points, what Mr Russell once called, in connection 
with the words number and two, * a purely prudential 
use of language/ That is, he may be using words 
not because he knows with any precision what he 
means by them, but because he knows how they are 

J The Language and Thought of the Child. 


ordinarily used, and does with them what he has 
heard other people do with them before. He strings 
them together in suitable sequences, manoeuvres 
them aptly enough, produces with them pretty well 
the effects he intends, yet meanwhile he may have 
not much more inkling of what he is really (or should 
be) doing with them than % telephone-girl need have 
of the inner wiring of the switchboard she operates 
so deftly. He may merely be in the condition that 
Conrad ascribed to those Russians who pour words 
out ' with such an aptness of application sometimes 
that, as in the case of very accomplished parrots, one 
can't defend oneself from the suspicion that they 
really understand what they say '. 1 

It may make this accusation seem less unjustifiable 
if we underline really, and then ask ourselves how 
often, even in our most enlightened, most conscious 
and most vigilant moments, we would be prepared 
to claim such understanding ourselves. Under- 
standing is very evidently an affair of degree, never 
so consummate as to be insusceptible of improve- 
ment. All we can say is that the masters of life the 
greater poets sometimes seem to show such an 
understanding and control of language that we 
cannot imagine a further perfection. And judged, 
not by this exalted standard, but by a much humbler 
order of perceptions, we can be certain that most 
' well-educated ' persons remain, under present-day 
conditions, far below the level of capacity at which, 
by social convention, they are supposed to stand. 
As to the less ' well-educated ' genius apart they 
inhabit chaos. 

Few sincere minds will perhaps, in their private 
councils, be prepared to dispute this, however much 
the pretensions which are socially imposed upon us 
may force us to deny it. But to fathom the implica- 
tions of this situation we shall need to make some 

1 Under \Vestern Eyes, p. 3. 


distinctions. What do we understand here by 
' understanding ' ? Various senses of this loose and 
ambiguous word invite our attention. 

14. Understanding. To take the most primitive 
sense first, we shall agree that when nothing whatever 
happens in our minds beyond the mere perception 
of the sound or shape of words as words, we do not 
understand them. Comparatively, any thoughts or 
feelings or impulses stirred into activity by the words, 
and seemingly directed towards something which the 
words represent, are a beginning of understanding. 
In this primitive sense it is possible that a dog or a 
horse may come to ' understand ' a few r words and 
phrases. In a more developed instance we under- 
stand when the words prompt in us action or emotion 
appropriate to the attitude of the person who speaks 
them. Animals achieve this level also, and much 
of the conversation we address to infants asks only 
for this degree of understanding. (This aim a 
blend of tone and intention continues in some 
degree perhaps through all human intercourse right 
up to the highest utterances of the philosopher.) At 
a third level ' understanding ' implies some degree 
of intellectual discrimination. We are required to 
distinguish the thought invited by the words from 
other thoughts more or less like it. The words may 
mean ' This not That ', the nearness of This to That 
corresponding to the precision of the thought invited. 

Here we meet with our first opportunity for 
deceiving ourselves as to the quality of our under- 
standing. For as soon as we pass out of the realm 
of immediate action or nai've emotional expression, 
as soon as pointing and touching, seeing and trying 
can no longer be applied as a test of our under- 
standing, we have to fall back upon other words. If 
we wish to prove to other persons that we have really 
discriminated the This from That, our only method 


will be to produce some description of This and That 
to make their difference clear. Now a ' purely 
prudential ' use of such descriptions is not difficult 
to acquire. It need not be accompanied by any 
precise thoughts of either This or That. If we are 
asked, ' What do you mean by so and so ? ' by 
understanding, for example, we can usually reply by 
giving a few other words that experience has taught 
us can be used in its place. We reply, ' I mean com- 
prehending, grasping the sense, realising the signi- 
ficance, seizing the meaning, that's what I mean ', 
and it does not follow in the least that because we 
can supply these alternative locutions we have any 
precise ideas upon the matter. This dictionary under- 
standing, as it may be called, has long been recognised 
as an insidious substitute for more authentic kinds 
of understanding in the elementary stages of all those 
sciences in which definitions are required. But its 
operation is really much more extensive. No one 
with experience of philosophical discussion will con- 
fidently set bounds to it, and we are all in danger of 
becoming philosophers as soon as we attempt to 
explain our use of words or draw distinctions between 
our thoughts. 

The real danger of dictionary understanding is that 
it so easily prevents us from perceiving the limitations 
of our understanding ; a disadvantage inseparable 
from the advantage it gives us of concealing them 
from our friends. A parallel disguise with similar 
disadvantages is available for the other chief form 
of communication. In addition to directing a fairly 
precise thought, most language simultaneously en- 
deavours to excite some refinement of feeling. As 
we have seen above, this function of language fails 
at least as often as the communication of sense. 
And our means of discovering for ourselves whether 
we have or have not understood this feeling correctly 
are even less satisfactory than in the case of thought. 


As a rule, only close contact with persons who are 
exacting in this respect can give us the necessary 
training. They must be exacting in the sense of 
noticing with discrimination what feeling we appre- 
hend, not, of course, in the sense of constantly 
demanding certain definite feelings from us. Most 
of our devices for exhibiting feeling through words 
are so crude that we easify convince ourselves and 
others that we have understood more perfectly than 
is, in fact, the case. Humanity's pathetic need for 
sympathy also encourages this illusion. Thus 
dictionary understanding of feeling, though less glib, 
is as treacherous as with sense. 

Similar considerations apply to the other two 
forms of understanding the apprehension of tone 
and of intention. 1 Subtleties of tone are rarely 
appreciated without some special training. The 
gift reaches its heights perhaps only in certain 
favourable social settings. 2 In the same way the 
man engaged all his days in intricate (and preferably 
shady) negotiations most easily becomes an expert 
in divining other people's intentions. Natural 
shrewdness and sensibility (a phrase which covers 
deep mysteries) sometimes compensate for these 
specially favourable settings. 

15. Confusions. Even for a reader who has a good 
ability in all these four kinds of understanding yet 
further dangers lie in wait. Pre-eminently the danger 
of mistaking one function of language for another, of 
taking for a statement what is merely the expression 
of a feeling, and vice versa, or of interpreting a 
modification due to tone as an indication of irrelevant 
intention. These confusions to which all complex 

1 Yet other senses of ' understanding ' can, of course, be constructed 
a sense in which ' understanding' is contrasted with 'knowledge,' 
for example. But I am anxious here to keep my treatment as simple 
and unspeculative as possible. 

2 As an example, consider the social development of Julien in Le 
Rouge et le Noir. 


or subtle writing is much exposed have been illus- 
trated and discussed above. As soon as metaphorical 
or figurative uses of speech are introduced, and such 
writings can rarely avoid them, these dangers become 
much increased. I have made, since the bulk of 
this book was prepared, some further experiments 
with the paraphrasing of fairly simple figurative 
and semi-allegorical passages. They more than 
corroborate what was shown by the protocols here 
given. Not nearly thirty per cent, of a University 
audience are to be trusted not to misinterpret such 
language. The facts are such that only experienced 
teachers would credit a statement of them apart 
from the evidence. 1 I hope to be able to give it, and 
discuss the theory of interpretation further in a 
future work. 

This separation or disentanglement of the four 
language functions is not an easy matter. Even to 
state the distinctions between them clearly if we 
are to go beyond dictionary understanding is diffi- 
cult. What is thought ? What is feeling ? How are 
we to separate a writer's attitude to us (or to a 
hypothetical listener) from his intention ? And what 
is an attitude or what an intention ? To be able to 
answer these questions is not, of course, necessary 
for the good understanding of a phrase involving 
these four functions. All that is required is that the 
mind should actually receive each separate con- 
tributory meaning without confusion. It is not even 
desirable, as a rule, that it should think of the feeling, 
the tone and the intention. It is sufficient if it think 
of the sense. The other meanings are best received, 
when possible, each in its appropriate more direct 
and immediate manner. But when difficulty arises, 
thought may come to the rescue. 

1 But when the root and stem (in our nurseries, preparatory schools 
and public schools) are as we know them to be, ought we to be 
surprised that the flower and crown are imperfect ? 


1 6. Further Dissection. Thought, 1 to put these 
distinctions rather simply, is a direction of the re- 
ceptive side of the mind, a sort of mental pointing to 
one kind of object or another. We may think by 
means of images, or words, or by other less describable 
means, but what is important is not the means but 
the result. We turn our attention this way or that to 
perceive or contemplate something. Thought thus 
implies something else, not itself, which is what the 
thought is ' of ' 2 its object. 

In contrast, a feeling does not imply an object. 
It is a state of the mind. It is not necessarily directed 
to anything, or ' of ' anything. It is true that we can 
speak of * a feeling of pity ' or ' of anger ', but this 
is clearly a different use of the word c of '. No con- 
fusion should arise, although sometimes we may use 
the word in both ways at once, as when we speak of 
a * sensation of blue '. (' Feeling ', too, we use in all 
kinds of ways. * I feel chilly '/I feel you ought to ', 
* I feel doubtful '. It is the Jack-of-all-trades in the 
psychologist's vocabulary.) 

So far as * feeling ', in the sense I am giving it 
here, seems to have an object, to imply something 
towards which it is directed, it gets this direction 
either from an accompanying thought or from an 
accompanying intention. For intentions, too, have 
objects, though the relation of an intention to its 
object is not the same as that between a thought and 
its object. An intention is a direction of the active 

1 These definitions are merely those which seem to me, for my 
purpose here, most convenient . Like all similar definitions they can 
neither be right nor wrong, but only more or less serviceable. They 
are not identical with those I should use for other purposes, and have, 
in fact, used elsewhere. All that is needed is that they should be 
intelligible and should correspond with the facts in nature to which 
attention is to be directed. 

2 The kind of relation for which this word 'of here stands is 
discussed at length in The Meaning of Meaning, Second Edition, 
Ch. Ill, and Principles of Literary Criticism, pp. 85-91. See also 
Appendix A, Note 5. 


(not the receptive) side of the mind. It is a pheno- 
menon of desire not of knowledge. Like a thought, 
it may be more or less vague, and it is exposed to 
analogous forms of error. Just as a thought may be 
actually directed to something other than it professes 
to be directed to, so with an intention. We may, in 
fact, be trying to do something different from what 
we seem to ourselves to be aiming for. (I intend by 
this to indicate a different case from that common 
form of error in which we persuade ourselves by 
thinking that we desire something that, in fact, we 
do not at all desire.) 

A feeling is thus an innocent and unfallacious 
thing in comparison with thoughts and intentions. 
It may arise through immediate stimulation without 
the intervention of either thought or intention. 
Musical sounds, colours, odours, the squeaking of 
quill-pens, the skins of peaches, scissor-grinding, all 
these can excite feelings without our minds being 
directed thereby to anything. But incipient attention 
and action ordinarily accompany even the slightest 
arousal of feeling. The most elaborate feelings 
develop in us, however, only through thought and 
intention. Thought turns the mind to certain objects 
(presents them to us), or some intention is furthered 
or thwarted, and feeling ensues. 

There are two important senses in which we can 
* understand ' the feeling of a passage. We can 
either just ourselves undergo the same feeling or we 
can think of the feeling. Often in witnessing a play, 
for example, we think of the feelings of the char- 
acters, but undergo the feeling the whole action 
conveys. Obviously we can and do make mistakes 
in both forms of understanding. Much the same is 
true of the apprehension of tone, our appreciation 
of the speaker's attitude towards us. His attitude 
invites a complimentary attitude from us. So we 
can either simply adopt this attitude (thereby in one 


sense ' recognising ' his attitude), or think of his 
attitude (perceive it, thereby ' recognising ' it in quite 
another sense). 

The actual arousal in ourselves either of the feeling 
or of the complimentary attitude may take place 
directly or through our awareness of sense or in- 
tention. An alarmed chimpanzee utters a peculiar 
cry which instantly throws his fellows in the group 
into a state of sympathetic alarm. So it is with 
humanity, too. The cadence of a phrase may in- 
stigate a feeling without any intermediaries. Tone, 
also, we seem to understand sometimes directly. 
Biologically, there is good reason to expect us to 
have this capacity. The same may be true of simple 
cases of intention especially intentions which regard 
ourselves, but more complex cases require (as we 
saw in Part III, Ch. II) careful study of the sense, 
if grotesque mistakes are to be avoided. But here 
again to ' recognise ' an intention is not quite the same 
thing as to think of it. 

17. Order. Innumerable cross influences and 
complications between these four kinds of meaning 
are possible, and frequently present, in what may 
appear a quite simple remark. A perfect under- 
standing would involve not only an accurate direction 
of thought, a correct evocation of feeling, an exact 
apprehension of tone and a precise recognition of 
intention, but further it would get these contributory 
meanings in their right order and proportion to one 
another, and seize though not in terms of explicit 
thought their interdependence upon one another, 
their sequences and interrelations. 

For the value of a passage frequently hangs upon 
this internal order among its contributory meanings. 
If feeling, for example, too much governs thought, 
or, in another case, if thought too much controls 
feeling, the result may be disastrous, even though 


thought and feeling in themselves are as good as can 
be. More obviously perhaps, a proper feeling, pre- 
sented not in its own right or in right of the thought, 
but in undue deference to the reader (tone), or to 
cajole him (intention), will lose its sanction, unless 
the author saves the situation either by successfully 
concealing this fact or by a suitable avowal. But the 
exact tone of this avowal will be all-important. 

It would be tedious to continue upon this aspect 
of meaning without giving examples, and these would 
take up too many of these pages. If a mind is valuable, 
not because it possesses sound ideas, refined feelings, 
social skill and good intentions, but because these 
admirable things stand in their proper relations to 
one another, we should expect this order to be re- 
presented in its utterances, and the discernment of 
this order to be necessary for understanding. Once 
again, however, this discernment is not the same 
thing as an intellectual analysis of the Total Meaning 
into its contributories. It is an actual formation in 
the receptive mind of a whole condition of feeling 
and awareness corresponding, in due order, to the 
original meaning which is being discerned. Without 
some discernment analysis would plainly be im- 
possible. We have now to consider whether practice 
in such analysis could possibly lead to improvement 
in the capacity to discern. 


1 8 . The Teaching of English . l I am not aware that 
any work has been done that would test this sugges- 

1 Those who wish to acquaint themselves with the methods 
employed in schools could hardly do better than to consult the 
Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the President 
of the Board of Education into the position of English in the 
educational system of England, entitled The Teaching of English in 
England (H.M. Stationery Office, 1921, is. 6d.) ; and the Memor- 
andum on the Teaching oj English, issued by the Incorporated 


tion. Exercises in parsing and paraphrasing are not 
the kind of analyses I have in view. And I have not 
heard of any schoolmaster who may have attempted 
to make a systematic discussion of the forms of mean- 
ing and the psychology of understanding part of his 
teaching. I have met not a few, however, who would 
treat the suggestion with an amused or indignant 
contempt. * What ! Fill the children's heads with 
a lot of abstractions ! It is quite hard enough already 
to get them to grasp one meaning THE MEANING 
let alone four or sixteen, or whatever it is ! They 
couldn't understand a word you were talking about.' 
I have been the less discouraged by such remarks, 
however, by the perception that some of the speakers 
were in precisely the same case. But even if any 
teacher should have wished to experiment in this 
way, it is difficult to see where he would have 
obtained his intellectual instruments from. Neither 
the critics nor the psychologists as yet have provided 
them in any serviceable form. Indeed, it is the 
oddest thing about language, whose history is full 
of odd things (and one of the oddest facts about 
human development) that so few people have ever 
sat down to reflect systematically about meaning. 1 
For no daring or original steps are needed to carry 
our acquaintance with these matters at least a step 
further than the stage at which it usually remains. 
A little pertinacity and a certain habit of examining 
our intellectual and emotional instruments as we use 
them, is all that is required. From the point of view 
thus attained one would expect that our libraries would 
be full of works on the theory of interpretation, the 

Association of Assistant Masters in Secondary Schools (Cambridge 
University Press, 1927, 35. 6d.). But Mr George Sampson's English 
for the English should on no account be overlooked. It says some 
plain things in a plain way, with passion and with point. 

1 Cf. The Meaning of Meaning, Ch. II, where evidence is brought 
to show that the ground for our reluctance to inquire too closely into 
language lies deep in the early beliefs of the race. 


diagnosis of linguistic situations, systematic am- 
biguity and the functions of complex symbols ; and 
that there would be Chairs of Signifies or of General 
Linguistic at all our Universities. Yet, in point of 
fact, there is no respectable treatise on the theory of 
linguistic interpretation in existence, and no person 
whose professional occupation it is to inquire into 
these questions and direct *study in the matter. For 
grammatical studies do not trespass upon this topic. 
Surely systematic investigation of the uses of language 
may be expected to improve our actual daily use 
of it, at least in the same measure that the study of 
plant-physiology may improve agriculture or human 
physiology assist medicine or hygiene. There is no 
other human activity for which theory bears so small 
a proportion to practice. Even the theory of football 
has been more thoroughly inquired into. And if we 
ask what is most responsible for this neglect, the 
answer should probably be ' Vanity '. We are with 
difficulty persuaded that we have much to learn 
about language, or that our understanding of it is 
defective. And this illusion re-forms whenever it is 
shattered, though any efficient educational procedure 
ought to have no trouble in shattering it as often as 
is needed. The first condition for improvement in 
the adult's use of language must be to disturb this 
ludicrous piece of self-deception. 

19. Practical Suggestions. There is little room 
for doubt that some progress in this direction can 
be made through such experiments as the one upon 
which this book is based. We are quicker to detect 
our own errors when they are duplicated by our 
fellows, and readier to challenge a pretension when 
it is worn by another. But the logic of the situation 
can be made in time too strong even for the vainest. 
And when a systematic publicity is given to these 
ordinary phenomena of misinterpretation that usually 


remain so cunningly hidden, the stoutest self- 
confidence is shaken. Language is primarily a social 
product, and it is not surprising that the best way 
to display its action is through the agency of a group. 
The only way perhaps to change our attitude to 
language is to accumulate enough evidence as to the 
degree to which it can be misunderstood. But the 
evidence must not only be accumulated, it must be 
pressed home. The wild interpretations of others 
must not be regarded as the antics of incompetents, 
but as dangers that we ourselves only narrowly 
escape, if, indeed, we do. We must see in the mis- 
readings of others the actualisation of possibilities 
threatened in the early stages of our own readings. 
The only proper attitude is to look upon a successful 
interpretation, a correct understanding, as a triumph 
against odds. We must cease to regard a misinter- 
pretation as a mere unlucky accident. We must 
treat it as the normal and probable event. 

But this distrustful attitude takes us but a little 
way towards a cure. We must, if possible, gain some 
power of diagnosis, some understanding of the risks 
that interpretations run, and some capacity to detect 
what has occurred. This may be considered too 
abstruse and baffling a matter, bad enough for the 
determined adult, and self-condemning as an educa- 
tional suggestion. The reply is that those who think 
so have probably forgotten how abstruse and baffling 
every subject is until it has been studied and the 
best methods of learning it and of teaching it have 
been worked out. It would have seemed fairly 
absurd if somebody in the seventeenth century had 
suggested that the Method of Fluxions (though with 
an improved notation) could be profitably studied 
by schoolboys, and not very long ago Elementary 
Biology would have seemed a very odd subject to 
teach to children. With innumerable such in- 
stances behind us, we ought to hesitate before deciding 


that a Theory of Interpretation in some slightly more 
advanced and simplified form (with perhaps a new 
notation and nomenclature to help it) may not quite 
soon take the foremost place in the literary subjects 
of all ordinary schools. No one would pretend that 
the the- ry as it is propounded in this book is ready, 
as it s^nds, for immediate and wide application. 
But a very strong case can, I think, be made out, 
both for the need and the possibility of practical 
steps towards applying it. No one who considers 
the protocols closely, or considers with candour his 
own capacity to interpret complex language, will, I 
think, deny the need. As to the possibility, the only 
improvements in training that can be suggested must 
be based upon a closer study of meaning and of the 
causes of unnecessary misunderstanding. 

This, then, may be made a positive recommenda- 
tion, that an inquiry into language no longer con- 
fused with the grammarian's inquiry into syntax 
and into comparative linguistic morphology, or with 
the logician's or the philologist's studies be re- 
cognised as a vital branch of research, and treated no 
longer as the peculiar province of the whimsical 

But it is possible without too much rashness to go 
further. However incomplete, tentative, or, indeed, 
speculative we may consider our present views on 
this subject, they are far enough advanced to justify 
some experimental applications, if not in the school 
period then certainly at the Universities. If it be 
replied that there is no time for an additional subject, 
we can answer by challenging the value of the time 
at present spent in extensive reading. A very slight 
improvement in the capacity to understand would so 
immensely increase the value of this time that part 
of it would be exchanged with advantage for direct 
training in reading. This applies quite as much to 
such studies as economics, psychology, political 



theory, theology, law or philosophy, as to literature. 
For though the material handled in this book has 
not allowed me to demonstrate it (except perhaps in 
ways which I should deplore), quite as many readers 
blunder unnecessarily over intricate argumentation 
and exposition as over poetry. And a direct study 
of interpretation here can be made quite as useful. 
The incidental training that every one is supposed to 
receive in the course of studying other subjects is 
too fragmentary, accidental and unsystematic to 
serve this purpose. Sooner or later interpretation 
will have to be recognised as a key-subject. But 
only the actual effort to teach such a subject can reveal 
how it may best be taught. 

There is this to be added in favour of the subject. 
It enlists at once a natural interest, a cousin belonging 
to that family of interests which govern the cross- 
word puzzle, acrostics and detective fiction. And 
a type of curiosity about words and their meanings 
that infants and primitive savages share with sophisti- 
cated philologists (very different from a psychological 
interest in the problem of meaning, and sometimes in 
conflict with it), can also be engaged with discretion. 
Thus, although it would probably be wisest to begin 
with advanced classes in the Universities, it would be 
rash to say how far from the Elementary School we 
need in the end stop. 

20. The Decline in Speech. My suggestion is that 
it is not enough to learn a language (or several 
languages), as a man may inherit a business, but that 
we must learn, too, how it works. And by ' learning 
how it works ', I do not mean studying its rules of 
syntax or its grammar, or wandering about in its 
lexicography two inquiries that have hitherto 
diverted attention from the central issue. 1 I mean 

1 There is no intention here to diminish the importance of grammar, 
which is nowadays not overestimated by teachers, but rather to insist 
that grammar does not cover the whole subject of interpretation. 


by ' learning how it works ', study of the kinds of 
meaning that language handles, their connection 
with one another, their interferences ; in brief, the 
psychology of the speech-situation. The parallel 
with the case of a man inheriting a business can be 
followed a little further. Some generations ago, 
when businesses were simpler and more separate, 
the owner could carry one on by rule of thumb or 
by a mere routine proficiency without troubling 
himself much about general industrial or economic 
conditions. It is not so now. Similarly, when man 
lived in small communities, talking or reading, on 
the whole, only about things belonging to his own 
culture, and dealing only with ideas and feelings 
familiar to his group, the mere acquisition of his 
language through intercourse with his fellows was 
enough to give him a good command of it. A better 
command, both as speaker and listener, than any but 
a few happy persons can boast to-day. For a decline 
can be noticed in perhaps every department of 
literature, from the Epic to the ephemeral Magazine. 
The most probable reasons for this are the increased 
size of our * communities ' (if they can still be so 
called, when there remains so little in common), and 
the mixtures of culture that the printed word has 
caused. Our everyday reading and speech now 
handles scraps from a score of different cultures. 
I am not referring here to the derivations of our 
words they have always been mixed but to the 
fashion in which we are forced to pass from ideas 
and feelings that took their form in Shakespeare's 
time or Dr Johnson's time to ideas and feelings of 
Edison's time or Freud's time and back again. More 
troubling still, our handling of these materials varies 
from column to column of the newspaper, descending 
from the scholar's level to the kitchen-maid's. 

The result of this heterogeneity is that for all kinds 
of utterances our performances, both as speakers (or 


writers) and listeners (or readers), are worse than 
those of persons of similar natural ability, leisure and 
reflection a few generations ago. Worse in all four 
language functions, less faithful to the thought, less 
discriminating with the feeling, cruder in tone and 
more blurred in intention. We defend ourselves 
from the chaos that threatens us by stereotyping 
and standardising both 'our utterances and our 
interpretations. And this threat, it must be insisted, 
can only grow greater as world communications, 
through the wireless and otherwise, improve. 

21. Prose. If this decline and its explanation 
are accepted, and I do not think many students 
either of literary history or of current sociology will 
deny them, the moral is clear. A more conscious 
and deliberate effort to master language is imperative. 
Since mere practice under these conditions is- in- 
sufficient, we must look to theory to help us. We 
must make ourselves more aware of how the language 
we so much depend upon works. It is important to 
realise that these deficiencies in our use of words 
cripple prose quite as much as poetry. Poetry, with 
its direct means of conveying feelings and its meta- 
phorical modes, suffers especially from certain types 
of misinterpretation, but prose, the prose of dis- 
cussion, reflection and research, the prose by which 
we try to grapple intellectually with a too bewildering 
world, suffers quite as much from other confusions. 
Every interesting abstract word (apart from those 
that have been nailed down to phenomena by the 
experimental sciences) is inevitably ambiguous yet 
we use them daily with the pathetic confidence of 
children. A few terms in these pages have had some 
of their ambiguities displayed meaning, belief, sin- 
cerity, sentimentality, rhythm, understanding, and so 
forth but scores of others which deserve the same 
treatment have been used in apparent innocence, 


and no fully satisfactory account of poetry can be 
forthcoming until their ambiguities have been ex- 

But a more considered technique of discussion has 
a wider importance. Our opinions about poetry do 
not much differ in type from our opinions about 
many other topics ; and all such opinions are very 
liable to ambiguity. The* methods I have here tried 
to apply to critical questions, have to be applied to 
questions of morals, political theory, logic, economics, 
metaphysics, religion and psychology, both for pur- 
poses of research and in higher education. Only by 
comparing a given opinion, or its verbal formula if 
you like, as it is applied by many minds to many 
different matters, do we get an opportunity to 
observe its ambiguities and analyse them systematic- 
ally. But this is an opportunity that we need no 
little hardihood to embrace. Dread of the bewilder- 
ment that might ensue if we recognised and investi- 
gated the inevitable ambiguity of almost all verbal 
formulae is probably a strong reason for our general 
reluctance to admit it. For this is one of the most 
unpopular truths that can be uttered. 

Therefore, we hide it away as often as is possible, 
and make the most of those occasions in which the 
ambiguity of our speech is reduced to the minimum. 
So long as we stay in the realm of things which can 
be counted, weighed and measured, or pointed to, 
or actually seen with the eyes or touched by the 
fingers, all goes well. And beyond this realm, such 
things as can be inferred from observations of 
measurable and touchable things, as the physicist 
infers his molecules and atoms, such things lend 
themselves to unambiguous discussion. And in yet a 
third region, the region of ordinary conversation, 
with its vague meanings that are ruled by social 
conventions talk about sport, literature, politics, 
news, personalities and the rest we manage moder- 


ately well, because our meanings are so large and 
vague that they can hardly help engaging with one 
another. But let such conversation improve (or 
degenerate, the point of view varies), let an attempt 
at precision be made let the question be mooted 
whether so and so really is an ' intelligent ' or 
* intuitive ' person, and in what his intelligence or 
intuitiveness precisely consists ; or the question 
whether it really is * right ' or not to pay different 
kinds of work with different wages ; or the question 
whether this or that poem is ' romantic ' ; or the 
question whether this or that composition is poetry ; 
or almost any of the questions discussed in these 
pages and another state of affairs soon appears. 
Before long we begin ' mistaking one another's 
points ', ' failing to understand one another's posi- 
tions ', ' seeing no justification whatever for one 
another's assertions ', ' quite misconceiving one an- 
other's arguments ', ' utterly misrepresenting per- 
fectly obvious matters of fact ', ' introducing bare- 
faced equivocations into the discussion J , * saying 
things that no honest and sensible person could 
possible mean ', and generally behaving like a mixed 
assembly of half-wits and scamps. The full situation, 
however, only develops if we are serious, sincere and 
pertinacious persons who are determined to * see the 
discussion through to the end ' the only end which 
such discussions unfortunately can as yet attain. 

Ordinarily some degree of mental youth is needed 
if the full harvest of mutual misunderstanding is to 
be garnered. More mature intelligences tend to 
retreat at an earlier stage and reserve the more exact 
statement of their opinions for other occasions. Even 
then, at a course of lectures, for example, or before 
the pages of a monograph, the ironical student of 
communication finds occasion to indulge his per- 
verted tastes. Let the listeners or the readers be 
suitably questioned, and again the old story has to 


be told. There can be few who have ever attempted 
by word or pen to expound any general subject with 
precision who have not had ample opportunity to 
admit that the satisfaction they gained from saying 
what they had to say must be offset by the pain of 
contemplating the other things which they have been 
supposed to have said. 

If I am overrating thesfe difficulties it is to a less 
degree than they are customarily and conventionally 
underrated. They increase in proportion as our 
effort towards wide and precise communication in- 
creases, and it is very necessary to find a means of 
avoiding them. I have written at length about this 
necessity elsewhere, and will not labour the point 
further here. The escape does not lie through the 
avoidance of abstract discussion or the relegation 
of such matters to specialists, for it is precisely the 
specialists who most indulge in mutual misunder- 
standing (cf. The Meaning of Meaning, Chs. VI 
and VIII). It does not lie in stricter definition of 
leading terms and a more rigid adherence to them 
this is the * militarist ' solution of the problem raised 
by the fact that people's minds do not all work alike. 
It fails, because the other people cannot really be so 
easily persuaded to adopt our point of view. At the 
worst they will seem to. The only way out does, in 
fact, lie in the opposite direction, not in greater 
rigidity but in greater suppleness. The mind that 
can shift its view-point and still keep its orientation, 
that can carry over into quite a new set of definitions 
the results gained through past experience in other 
frameworks, the mind that can rapidly and without 
strain or confusion perform the systematic trans- 
formations required by such a shift, is the mind of 
the future. It may be objected that there are very 
few such minds. But have we ever attempted to 
train them ? The whole linguistic training we 
receive at present is in the other direction, towards 


supplying us with one or other of a number of 
frameworks of doctrine into which we are taught to 
force all the material we would handle. 

This omnipresent ambiguity of abstract terms, 
when we reflect upon it, may well appear to present 
insuperable difficulties for the speculative appre- 
hension of the world. Even the fundamental terms 
by which we might seek *to define and limit these 
equivocations betray us. For mind, cause , thing, 
event, time, space and even datum, all on inspection 
reveal varieties of possible and actual meanings. As 
analysis proceeds, any coherent intellectual outlook 
will derive more and more from the order we can 
maintain among distinctions that become increasingly 
abstract and intangible, and therefore more word- 
dependent. With a confused or self-conflicting out- 
look it is not easy to live well, but many good minds 
are not in health to-day without some general world- 

This again, unless we can call in the theory of 
meanings to our help, is a condition which is more 
likely to grow worse than to improve, as the con- 
ceptions of present-day physics and psychology pass 
into the stream of general speculation. But certainly 
for most types of discussion and reflection the theory 
of meaning can help us. By pointing out the system- 
atic character of much ambiguity or by tracing the 
process of abstraction, for example, by preparing us 
to distinguish between those * philosophical ' utter- 
ances, which are really expressions of feeling, and 
statements that claim to be true, and by accustoming 
us to look not for one meaning but for a number of 
related meanings whenever we encounter trouble- 
some words. And even for this puzzling branch 
of the study of interpretation, exercises not too 
difficult for practical application in education can be 

It may be thought that these equivocations among 


abstractions betray only philosophers, amateur or 
professional, and that, therefore, they are of no 
great moment. But it is not so. One has only to 
glance at any controversy proceeding in the corre- 
spondence columns of the weeklies and watch the 
proceedings of men of eminence and intelligence at 
grips, for example, with the distinction between 
Prose and Poetry, or between Rhythm and Metre, 
to see clearly that even in simple discussions a better 
general technique for handling two or more defini- 
tions of the same word is badly needed. Without 
such a technique, confusion, or at best narrowness 
of outlook, is unavoidable. The habit of beginning 
a statement with ' Poetry is so and so ', instead of 
with, 'I am defining " poetry " as " so and so"', 
constantly stultifies even the most intelligent and 
determined efforts towards mutual understanding. 
It would be interesting to know how many persons who 
interest themselves in these matters can carry even 
three mutually incompatible definitions of * poetry ' 
in their heads simultaneously. And, at least, three 
definitions would be needed for a satisfactory dis- 
cussion of the differences between Prose and Poetry. 
Yet the trick of analysing them and the effort of 
memory required to carry them over intact are not 
more difficult than those involved in mental arith- 
metic. The difference that we all notice is grounded 
in the fact that we receive no systematic training 
in multiple definition, and so the required attitude 
towards words is hardly ever developed. At the 
best it remains a temporary, instable, precarious 
attitude, and we succumb easily to the temptation 
of supposing our ' adversary ' to be in obvious error 
when, in fact, he may merely be using words for the 
moment in another sense from our own. 1 To the 
eye of an intelligence perfectly emancipated from 

1 This is not to say that error is not frequent. But we must know 
what is being said before we can convict it of error. 


words, most of our discussions would appear like the 
manoeuvres of three dimensional beings who for 
some reason believed themselves to exist only in two 

22. Critical Fog. Partly for this reason our 
current reflective attitudes to poetry contain an 
undue proportion of bewilderment. It is regarded 
too often as a mystery. There are good and evil 
mysteries ; or rather there is mystery and mystery- 
mongering. That is mysterious which is inexplicable, 
or ultimate in so far as our present means of inquiry 
cannot explain it. But there is a spurious form of 
mysteriousness which arises only because our ex- 
planations are confused or because we overlook or 
forget the significance of what we have already under- 
stood. And there are many who think that they are 
serving the cause of poetry by exploiting these diffi- 
culties that every complex explanation presents. 
They are perhaps under the impression that ' to 
explain ' must mean * to explain away '. But this is 
to show a poor respect for poetry. Since we no 
longer receive by tradition any proper introduction 
to it, explanations, when explanation is possible, are 
needed. At present, gross general misunderstand- 
ings are certainly poetry's worst enemies. And these 
confusions have been encouraged by those who like 
to regard the whole matter, and every detail of it, as 
an incomprehensible mystery because they suppose 
that this is a ' poetic ' way of looking at it. But 
muddled-mindedness is in no respectable sense 
' poetic ', though far too many persons seem to think 
so. What can be explained about poetry can be 
separated from what cannot ; and at innumerable 
points an explanation can help us both to understand 
what kind of thing poetry in general is, and to under- 
stand particular passages. As to the truly mysterious 
aspect of poetry that ' leaning of the will ' in virtue 


of which we choose what we shall accept or reject 
we are not likely to approach an explanation within 
any foreseeable period . And when the human intellect 
does reach a stage at which this problem is solved, 
there will perhaps be no need to fear this or any 
other result of investigation. We ought by then to 
have learned enough about our minds to do with 
them what we will. 1 

23. Subjectivity. This distinction between what 
can and what cannot be explained is not quite equiva- 
lent to the distinction between what can and what 
cannot be argued about profitably in criticism. A 
difference in opinion or taste may be due to a mis- 
understanding of the meaning of a passage on one 
side of the dispute or both. But it may be due to an 
opposition of temperaments, to some difference in 
the direction of our interests. If so, discussion may 
perhaps make this difference clearer, but it is hardly 
likely to bridge it. We must admit that when our 
interests are developing in opposed directions we 
cannot agree in our ultimate valuations and choices. 
Unless we are to become most undesirably 
standardised, differences of opinion about poetry 
must continue differences, not only between in- 
dividuals, but between successive phases in the growth 
of the same personality. As any attitude is genuinely 

1 It is instructive to conjecture what would be the major interests 
of such an infinitely plastic mind. Being, by hypothesis, able to 
become any kind of mind at will, the question 'What kind of mind 
shall I choose to be?' would turn into an experimental matter ; and 
the process of surveying and comparing the possibilities of experience 
from all the relevant different 'personalities' (with varying degrees 
of dominance of the intellectual, emotional, and active components 
perhaps, and with different degrees of projection, self-awareness, etc.) 
would occupy much attention. Our present critical activities would 
compare with those of such a mind much as the physical conceptions 
and experimental technique of an Aristotle compare with these of an 
Eddington. We are still far from a General Theory of Critical 
Relativity, but at least we are reaching the point of knowing how 
much we shall soon come to need one. 


and enthusiastically taken up, it inevitably appears 
to be the right attitude, and the perception that 
accompanies it seems sagacious, penetrating and 
illuminating. Until, for obscure reasons, the mind 
changes, finds itself with different interests and a new 
outlook. All emotional development, in an active 
mind that retains any remembrance of its past, must 
appear a jerky and inconsequent process. What will 
be thought or felt next year seems uncertain, for 
what seemed fundamental last year seems to-day 
hardly worth notice. This is not a description of the 
neurotic temperament, but of the vigilant, living, 
growing individual. 

But this shifting, because living, basis for all 
literary responses does not force us, as some in- 
tellectual defeatists, misled by the word ' subjective ', 
may suppose, to an agnostic or indifferentist position. 
Every response is ' subjective ' in the sense that it is 
a psychological event determined by the needs and 
resources of a mind. But this does not imply that 
one is not better than another. We may also grant 
that what is good for one mind may not be good for 
another in a different condition with different needs 
and in a different situation. Nevertheless the funda- 
mental question of values, the better or worse, does 
not lose any of its significance. We have only 
shifted it to a clearer ground. Instead of an illusory 
problem about values supposed to inhere in poems 
which, after all, are only sets of words we have a 
real problem about the relative values of different 
states of mind, about varying forms, and degrees, of 
order in the personality. * If you look deeply into 
the ultimate essentials of this art, you will find that 
what is called " the flower " has no separate existence. 
Were it not for the spectator who reads into the 
performance a thousand excellences, there would be 
no " flower " at all. The Sutra says, " Good and ill 
are one ; villainy and honesty are of like kind ". 


Indeed, what standard have we whereby to discern 
good from bad ? We can only take what suits the 
need of the moment and call it good/ 1 One man's 
need is not another's, yet the question of values still 
remains. What we take we do indeed judge accord- 
ing to ' the need of the moment ', but the value of 
this momentary need itself is determined by its place 
among and its transactiortfe with our other needs. 
And the order and precedence among our needs 
incessantly changes for better or worse. 

Our traditional ideas as to the values of poetry 
given us automatically if poetry is set apart from life, 
or if poems are introduced to us from the beginning 
as either good or bad, as * poetry ' or ' not poetry ' 
misrepresent the facts and raise unnecessary diffi- 
culties. It is less important to like ' good ' poetry 
and dislike ' bad ', than to be able to use them both 
as a means of ordering our minds. It is the quality 
of the reading we give them that matters, not the 
correctness with which we classify them. For it is 
quite possible to like the * wrong ' poems and dislike 
the ' right ' ones for reasons which are excellent. 
Here our educational methods are glaringly at fault, 
creating a shibboleth situation that defeats its pur- 
pose. So long as we feel that the judgment of 
poetry is a social ordeal, and that our real responses 
to it may expose us to contempt, our efforts, even 
after passing the gate, will not take us far. But 
most of our responses are not real, are not our own, 
and this is just the difficulty. 

24. Humility. If the specimens of contemporary 
judgments given in Part II have no other uses, 
they will, at least, do us this service : that those 
who have read carefully through them will be for a 
little while after less impressionable by literary 

1 Seami Motokiyo (A.D. 1363-1444). Quoted from Waley, The Nd 
Plays of Japan, p. 22. 


judgments, however confidently or trenchantly ex- 
pressed, less dogmatic, less uncharitable, less subject 
also to floating opinion. ' I know not how it is ', 
wrote Matthew Arnold, ' but their commerce with 
the ancients appears to me to produce, in those who 
constantly practise it, a steadying and composing 
effect upon their judgment, not of literary works 
only, but of men and eVents in general. They are 
like persons who have had a very weighty and im- 
pressive experience : they are more truly than others 
under the empire of facts, and more independent of 
the language current among those with whom they 
live '. It would be absurd to compare the effects 
upon our minds of the masterpieces of antiquity 
with those that an attentive scrutiny of these scraps 
of literary opinion may produce. But there is an 
obverse aspect to every human achievement. And 
there is in the inner history of every opinion, if we 
can examine it and compare it with the other opinions 
it so narrowly missed becoming, a spring of ironical 
comedy. The confluence of many such rivulets 
might well have both a cleansing and a ' steadying 
and composing effect upon the judgment '. We 
might become less easily imposed upon by our 
fellows and by ourselves. 

Some discipline that will preserve us from these 
twin dangers we badly need. As the finer parts of 
our emotional tradition relax in the expansion and 
dissolution of our communities, and as we discover 
how far out of our intellectual depth the flood-tide 
of science is carrying us so far that not even the 
giants can still feel bottom we shall increasingly 
need every strengthening discipline that can be 
devised. If we are neither to swim blindly in schools 
under the suggestion of fashion, nor to shudder into 
paralysis before the inconceivable complexity of 
existence, we must find means of exercising our 
power of choice. The critical reading of poetry is 


an arduous discipline ; few exercises reveal to us 
more clearly the limitations under which, from 
moment to moment, we suffer. But, equally, the 
immense extension of our capacities that follows a 
summoning of our resources is made plain. The 
lesson of all criticism is that we have nothing to rely 
upon in making our choices but ourselves. The 
lesson of good poetry se&ms to be that, when we 
have understood it, in the degree in which we can 
order ourselves, we need nothing more. 


i. Further Notes on Meaning. 

Function 2 (feeling) and Function 3 (tone) are probably more 
primitive than either Function i (sense), or the more deliberate 
explicit forms of Function 4 (intention). Originally language 
may have been almost pu r ely emotive ; that is to say a means of 
expressing feelings about situations (the danger cry), a means of 
expressing interpersonal attitudes (cooing, growling, etc.), and 
a means of bringing about concerted action (compare the 
rhythmical grunts that a number of individuals will utter while 
pulling together at some heavy object). Its use for statement , as 
a more or less neutral means of representing states of affairs, is 
probably a later development. But this later development is 
more familiar to us now than the earlier forms, and we tend, when 
we reflect upon language, to take this use as the fundamental use. 
Hence perhaps in a large degree our difficulty in distinguishing 
clearly between them. And when we are expressing feeling and 
tone in comparative purity we are usually not in a mood to make 
abstract inquiries into our uses of language. This is another 

If Sir Richard Paget's recent views are accepted, sense (the 
descriptive indication of states of affairs) would however be very 
primitive in language indeed. If we suppose, that is, that a great 
deal of speech from the beginning has been an equivalent by 
means of gestures (movements) made with the organs of speech 
for descriptive gestures earlier made by the hands. Certainly 
we must admit that the sounds and movements of many words 
and phrases do seem even still to correspond significantly with 
their sense. And this correspondence probably gives them an 
important power of bringing their sense concretely before our 
minds, of making us * realise ' what they mean this realisation, 
however, being very largely an awakening of feelings. 

In much poetry as has often been remarked language tends 
to return towards a more primitive condition : a word like iron, 
for example, exciting, in poetry, a set of feelings rather than 
thoughts of the physical properties of that material, and a word 
like spirit evoking certain attitudes rather than ontological 

7 353 


reflections. Hence Function i, as we know it in its developed 
form in strict prose discussion, frequently appears to lapse in 
poetry. Or it returns there to that vaguer kind of reference by 
which we speak of This or That, not as objects having the pro- 
perties by which, if challenged, we might in some science define 
them, but as objects of a kind towards which we have certain 
attitudes and feelings, or objects that have this or that effect 
upon us. This vagueness is very frequently misunderstood in 
poetry. It is due to a replacement of scientific classifications by 
emotive classifications. We make use of external properties in 
place of internal properties the effects produced by objects on 
us, instead of qualities inherent in the objects. But these emotive 
classifications are in their own way very strict and definite. Thus 
incoherence in the thought of poetry, though it cannot be demon- 
strated by the same means as incoherence in a logical exposition, 
can be inquired into once we have grasped the principle at work. 

But thought governed by emotive classifications is still thought, 
and with words so used Function i (sense), though not in the 
most obvious way, may still be dominant. More puzzling 
situations arise when the whole aspect of words as conveying 
thought is either abrogated or subordinated. Let us take 
the case of complete abrogation of thought first. * How do you 
do ? ' as uttered on most occasions is an excellent example. It 
has ceased to be an inquiry and become a social ritual, its function 
being to adjust the tone of intercourse between two people. It is 
analogous on a small scale to the spirit-calming ceremonies with 
which the Japanese begin some of their greater rites. So is it 
with ' Dear Sir ' and * Yours sincerely '. To a less degree, 
weather-talk and much conversation about current affairs fill the 
same need. In poetry, Function 2, rather than Function 3, is 
usually responsible for this abrogation, this reduction of what 
looks like sense to nonsense. The * meaningless ' refrains of many 
ballads are the obvious example subtler forms of Hurrah I and 
Alas I More usually the sense is negligible rather than nonsense 
such that though a scheme of sense could be given to the words 
it is not sufficiently relevant to make the effort worth while. 
Much diction in songs is of this kind, and it is not a demerit. 

Subordination (as opposed to abrogation) of sense is nearly 
omnipresent in poetry. The poet makes a statement about 
something, not in order that the statement may be examined and 
reflected upon, but in order to evoke certain feelings, and when 
these are evoked the use of the statement is exhausted. It is 
idle and irrelevant to consider the statement further. This is 
a hard saying for those whose habit it is to look for inspiring 
messages in poetry, but this habit frequently leads to a profanation 
of poetry. 


The frequent independence of poetry from what it says 
(Function i) is clearly shown in many odes, elegies and celebra- 
tions. Perhaps very little that is said in Dry den's Ode to the 
Pious Memory of the Accomplished Young Lady, Mrs Anne 
Killigrew, is true ; perhaps Dryden himself had in fact no such 
opinion of these accomplishments as he there expressed. Perhaps 
Milton was not thinking very closely about Edward King in 
composing Lycidas. Perhaps Burns when writing Ae Fond Kiss 
was only too glad to part from the lady for whom it was written. 
Perhaps neither Shelley nor Victor Hugo deserved in fact half 
what Swinburne wrote about them. But whether what was 
written was good or bad is unaffected by these doubts. The 
identity of the addressee is irrelevant to the poetry as poetry. 
As biography or as criticism it would be all important. This is 
not to say that a certain amount of knowledge about the addressees 
may not be useful to the reader in understanding the poet, but 
it ought not to be used to condemn or to exalt the poem. These 
remarks apply evidently to some of the comments on Poems IX 
and XI. 

Taking now the converse case when Function 2 is subordinated 
to Function i. Whatever noble, elevated, moral or otherwise 
admirable sentiments may be explicitly stated by the poet, they 
are clearly not to be taken as proof of his lofty poetic stature. 
The reception of Poem I and some of the comments on Poems V 
and XI may help to preserve us from this danger. It is easy to 
insist that our feelings are interesting, it is less easy to prove it. 
It is easier to describe them than to present them. For if we 
are to present them, a natural not an artificial form of utterance 
must be found. We must not only state our feelings but express 
them. And the fact that a poet is stating them is almost in 
itself suspicious at least it is with much Georgian verse of the 
anecdotal nature-description kind. A poet who is conscious of 
his feelings in a form in which he can describe them and analyse 
them is in some danger. Another step and he is mentally inside 
out, as so many contemporary intellectual emotionalists are. 
There is a big difference between controlling and conveying 
feelings and talking about them. 

2. Intention. 

Intention may be thought a more puzzling function than the 
others. We may admit the distinctions between sense, feeling 
and tone, but consider that between them they cover the uses of 
language, and that to speak of intention as a fourth additional 
function is to confuse matters. There is some justification for 
this. None the less there are plenty of cases, especially in drama, 
in dramatic lyrics, in fiction which has a dramatic structure, in 



some forms of irony, in writings of the detective type whether 
of the order of Conan Doyle or of Henry James when this 
additional function may assist our analysis. Where conjecture, 
or the weight of what is left unsaid, is the writer's weapon, it 
seems unnatural to bring this under the heading of sense (or 
statement). The false trail or misleading hope may be due not 
to anything the writer has said or to any feelings he has expressed, 
but merely to the order and degree of prominence that he has 
given to various parts of his composition. And when we have 
admitted this, it is no long step to admitting that the form or 
construction or development of a work may frequently have 
a significance that is not reducible to any combination of our 
other three functions. This significance is then the author's 

But there is a better way of showing how constantly intention 
intervenes. It controls the relations among themselves of the 
other three functions. We have seen that to read poetry success- 
fully we must constantly distinguish the case where sense is 
autonomous from the case when it is in subjection to feeling. 
Sometimes the sense is the most important thing in a line of 
verse, and our feelings take their quality from it. Verses 1-5 
of Poem X may be instanced. What is said there, the sense, is 
the source of the feeling. But with verse 6, distortion, in the 
form of exaggeration, begins. Feeling is subordinating sense to 
its own ends. The distortion, provided we realise to some 
degree what is happening, then produces other reciprocal dis- 
tortions in the feeling. These alternations in the precedence of 
sense and feeling we apprehend as a rule automatically, by an 
acquired tact. 1 We may not explicitly remark them. If we had to 
describe them we might perhaps say that one verse was * serious ', 
another * not quite serious ' or ' extravagant '. But we do 
certainly interpret them differently, and this subtle, extremely 
delicate variation in our modes of interpreting different passages 
of poetry is what I hope to bring out. 

Another example is provided by those worthy people who 
refuse to leave any utterance of Hamlet or Lear, however 
* distraught ', without extracting some recondite philosophical 
import. Any indication of sense can be compared to a man 
pointing to something ; and this question can be put by asking 
whether we are to look at what he is pointing to or concentrate 
our attention on his gestures. For example, in Pope's Elegy to 
the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, the poet's eye is very plainly 
on himself and on his reader rather than on the imaginary 

1 Or as some would say, using a word which now has in these 
connections only an obfuscatory value, 4 instinctively.' 


object, and the reader should follow him in this, otherwise such 

lines as 

So flew the soul to its congenial place, 
Nor left one virtue to redeem her race. 

Cold is the breast which warmed the world before, 

Thus, if eternal Justice rules the ball, 

Thus shall your wives and thus your children fall ; 

On all the line a sudden vengeance waits, 

And frequent hearses shall besiege your gates . . . 

ought certainly to produce effects very unlike those which Pope 
intended. But examples are innumerable. Whether we proceed 
from the sense to the feeling or vice versa, or take them simul- 
taneously, as often we must, may make a prodigious difference in 
the effect, altering not only the internal structure of the Total 
Meaning, but even such apparently unconnected features as the 
sound of the words. 

Of this last fact ' vaporous vitiate air ', the much disputed 
phrase from the last verse of Poem XI, may serve as an instance. 
What may appear to a first reading as a displeasing and atfected 
piece of mouthing, may as the first strain put upon the sense by 
the feeling relaxes, and the return effect of the notion of spiritual 
climates upon the feeling develops come to seem not only natural 
but even inevitable as sound. It may, however, be more obvious 
that Poem 1 was interpreted by some readers primarily in terms of 
sense and by others primarily in terms of feeling, the divisions of 
opinion as to its merits being also determined by the way in which 
its tone was interpreted. The protocols of Poem VI supply 
further excellent material for tracing these variations. Sense, 
tone and feeling being there very exquisitely adjusted, clumsy 
reading has evident effects upon the apprehension both of meaning 
and form. 

3, Esthetic Adjectives. 

These aesthetic or * projectile ' adjectives and their corre- 
sponding abstract substantives raise several extraordinarily 
interesting questions. I can only indicate them here for even 
an outline discussion would require a whole volume. In so far 
as they register the projection of a feeling into an object they 
carry a double function at least and give rise to a systematic 
series of ambiguities. 1 We may take such a word as beauty either 
as standing for some inherent property (or set of properties) in 

1 Hence arise those special difficulties in discussion labelled in The 
Meaning of Meaning (Ch. VI) as due to the Utraquistic Subterfuge. 


the object said to be beautiful ; or as standing for an emotive 
classification (i.e., placing the object in the class of things that 
affect us in a certain way) ; or, thirdly, as expressing the occurrence 
of a certain feeling in the speaker. Obviously the word may very 
well be doing all three simultaneously. Which of them has 
priority in any case may depend upon the degree of reflection and 
the direction of sophistication in the speaker. 

It may make this linguistic situation clearer if we compare 
three examples that show different degrees of projection. Let 
us take pleasant first. Few would maintain that all pleasant things 
possess any peculiar property in common, except that of causing 
(under suitable conditions) pleasure in suitable persons. The 
tendency to projection here though the grammatical form 
supports it is slight. We all agree that when we say * this is 
pleasant ' we might equally well say * this is pleasing ' (to me, 
as I am, and to folk like me in these conditions), without any 
consciousness of a change of meaning. And correspondingly we 
agree easily that what may be pleasant on one occasion may not 
be pleasant on another or to a different person. 

Now consider pretty. If we say that something or someone is 
pretty, we do seem to be doing more than merely saying that we 
are affected by it or her in a certain fashion. Pretty things do 
seem to have some property in common that is perhaps peculiar 
to them, though it is extremely hard to discover what it can be 
that can belong in common to landscapes, kittens, book-bindings, 
geisha and tunes, and to nothing that is not pretty. Moreover, 
what seems pretty as a rule goes on seeming pretty to us. If the 
thing remains the same itself, no very obvious changes in the 
mere conditions, provided we can still attend to it, suffice to make 
it seem no longer pretty. All this shows that the projection in 
this case is much more pronounced and more stable. None the 
less, if challenged, few people would maintain that there is in 
fact an objective, inherent quality or property, namely prettiness, 
which belongs to certain things quite apart from their effects 
upon our minds, a quality that, as it were, independently makes 
them pretty. The very termination -ness (compare pleasantness , 
prettiness, loveliness, ugliness, attractiveness), is, perhaps, a slight 
indication too, but not one to be relied upon, of the middle stage 
at which the projection remains. 

A further degree of projection is found with beautiful. Half 
at least of the literature of aesthetics is a proof that we find it 
exceedingly difficult not to believe that some simple or complex 
property does in fact reside in all the things however different 
in other respects they may be that we correctly call beautiful. 
And this inherent property, Beauty, is, we tend to think, inde- 
pendent of any effects .upon our minds or other minds and 


unaffected by changes in us. Similarly, though with some slight 
but curious difference, with sublime (sublimity) and holy (holiness). 
Four stages of relative naivety or sophistication may be remarked 
in our handling of this word beauty. The least sophisticated 
view assumes that, of course, things are beautiful or not in 
themselves , just as they are blue or not blue, square or not square 
A less naive view plunges to the other extreme and regards beauty 
as * altogether subjective ', as perhaps merely equivalent to 
* pleasing to the higher senses '. A still more sophisticated view 
reconstructs again as a counterblast to this ' subjective view ' 
a doctrine of real inherent objective tertiary qualities, giving it 
a complex philosophical and logical scaffolding and perhaps 
venturing some provisional formula as a description of this 
property ' unity in variety ', ' logical necessity in structure ', 
1 proportions easeful to the apprehension ', and so forth. Lastly 
a perhaps still more sophisticated view reduces this formula to 
something so vague and general that it ceases to be useful as an 
instrument for investigating differences between what is said to 
be beautiful and what is not. For example, if we define beautiful ', 
as I suggest for this purpose we might, as ' having properties 
such that it arouses, under suitable conditions, tendencies to 
self-completion in the mind ' (or something more elaborate of 
this kind), beauty ceases to be the name of any ascertainable 
property in things. It is still objective, it is still the property in 
virtue of which the beautiful thing does arouse these tendencies. 
But we cannot take these beautiful things and look to see what 
they have in common, for in fact they need have nothing in 
common (if the conditions are dissimilar) beyond this purely 
abstract property of ' being such as to arouse, etc.' In each case 
there will be some account that can be given as to how the thing 
is beautiful, but no general account will be possible. (Compare 
the case of the word lovable. In each case we can perhaps point 
to characters which explain why the thing is loved, but we cannot 
give any general account of the common and peculiar properties 
that all lovable things possess those they all share and which 
nothing not lovable possesses.) 

This last view clearly does away with our traditional notion 
of Beauty as an august embodied principle or power inherent in 
beautiful things, and those who hold it will be thought by many 
to be cut off * by their barren and materialistic logic-chopping * ? 
from a natural source of inspiration. (Similarly materialists 
are frequently supposed to be debarred from the appreciation and 
use of spiritual values.) But this is a result of a mistaken theory 
of poetry and a confusion of poetry with science. It brings us 
back to the point at which we started the use of ' projectile ' 


When we utter the word Beauty or when we read it, we may, 
as we have seen, be making any one of at least three distinct 
uses. We may be using it for either of two kinds of senses, or to 
express feeling. Whatever view we take philosophically as to the 
status of beauty as an inherent objective quality or as to the 
process of projection, we are not (this is a fact of observation 
not a theoretical position) necessarily deprived of our capacity 
to use it as though it stood for such an objective quality, and to 
enjoy all the advantages that derive from this usage. It is difficult 
for those who have long been accustomed to the idea of beauty 
as a projected quality to recall the chill and dismay with which 
a first acquaintance with this account may be received. Yet 
much of the opposition to psychological aesthetics has this 
emotional origin, and it is important to insist that the first numbing 
effect wears off. (Similarly with those who feel that it is more 
1 poetic ' to regard poetry as a mystic, inexplicable power ; the 
feeling can be retained after the obscurantism has been rejected.) 
Even though we hold firmly that there is no inherent general 
quality ' beauty ' we can still use the word as though there were. 
The effects upon our feelings will be the same, once the initial 
shock of the mental operation by which we recognise the fact of 
projection has passed away. And it is the same with all the rest 
of our projectile language. Happily for otherwise the effect 
of investigation here would be not only to destroy poetry but to 
wreck our whole emotional life. 

In some minds, perhaps some such danger is to be feared 
minds in which too close a dependence of feelings upon notions 
has developed, minds without sufficient intellectual suppleness, 
and cut off from the natural sources of emotion and attitude. 
But this problem has been discussed in Chapters V and VII. 

4. Rhythm and Prosody. 

In a recent authoritative work (What is Rhythm ? by E. A. 
Sonnenschein) the following definition of rhythm is recommended: 

* Rhythm is that property of a sequence of events in time 
which produces in the mind of an observer the impression of 
proportion between the durations of the several events or groups 
of events of which the sequence is composed/ (p. 16.) 

A serious objection may be brought against this type of 
definition. The property so defined may not be an internal 
property of the sequence at all. The impression of proportion 
may be due to no character of the object which is regarded as 
rhythmical but to some other cause. As some of the phenomena 
of opium, nitrous oxide and hashish dreams show, a single 
stimulus may give rise to a most definite impression of rhythm. 
And, to take a less extreme example, it is a common phenomenon, 


noticeable constantly in connection with verse, for the rhythm 
attributed to a sequence to be determined less by the configuration 
of the sequence than by other factors external to it in poetry 
the meanings of the words. It may be granted that usually when 
a rhythm is attributed to a sequence by some observer * some 
proportion between the durations of the several events in the 
sequence ' can be found. But it is doubtful, to say the least, 
whether study of the details of these proportions is very useful 
if the * impressions of proportipn * they produce are only in part 
due to them. 

Professor Sonnenschein seems himself to go some way towards 
admitting this when he says (p. 35) : ' What we are concerned with 
in all manifestations of rhythm is not so much a physical fact 
as a psychological fact i.e., the impression made by the physical 
fact upon the mind of man through the organs of sense '. My 
objection is that he does not make the fact we are concerned with 
psychological enough. The processes we have discussed under 
the heading The Apprehension of Meaning enter, I believe, 
as important factors in the formation of the impression, though, 
of course, they do not wholly determine it. The impression is 
a compromise. 

In any case it is surely the relations of the ascribed rhythm 
to the meaning (in its various forms) that is of interest to the 
student of poetry, not the characters of the ascribed rhythms in 
this respect or that. And though these relations can be felt 
(they are, of course, psychological relations, correspondences 
between different systems of activity in the mind), and in all 
good reading of good poetry they are felt continuously, it is hard 
to see how any description of the characters of rhythms, such as 
prosodists could supply, could be of any assistance in the matter. 
To suppose that we can ever intellectually observe the relation of 
a rhythm to a meaning in any example that is poetically interesting, 
and with the degree of nicety that would be required if our 
observations were to be useful or provide a basis for a scientific 
generalisation, is, I believe, to be unwarrantably optimistic. For 
apart from the difficulties of measuring the ascribed rhythm, we 
should need also in some way to measure the meaning. 

To study rhythm in poetry apart from meaning, since meaning 
is undoubtedly the controlling factor in the poet's choice of the 
rhythmical effects he will produce, seems from this point of view 
an enterprise of doubtful value. None the less, certain general 
effects of rhythms, mentioned in Principles, Ch. XVII, seem worth 
attention. And as a means of indicating to absent persons how 
certain verses may be read, prosody has an obvious function. 
But even this will soon perhaps be made obsolete by wireless and 
the gramophone. And to distinguish the differences in the 


rhythms to be ascribed, for example, to different types of blank 
verse is, of course, a valuable accomplishment ; but whether 
instruction in prosody can really enable anyone to do this who 
could not do it without (or with only the most obvious notation) 
is also questionable. If prosody is only a means of directing 
a reader's attention to the formal features of verse, then clearly 
it long ago reached a stage of development sufficient for this 
purpose, and further researches are not required. But if it is 
hoped that some correlation may be established, we may ask 
* Between what is this correlation to hold and what reasons are 
there to expect it ? ' This question seems to have been strangely 
neglected, and there has perhaps here been a confusion between 
the two senses of law. Indeed it seems possible that the terribly 
laborious studies of modern prosodists may in time to come be 
placed among the curious displays of misdirected intelligence 
and great ability that the history of science so often presents. 

* Cette page nuira de plus d'une fagon au malheureux auteur,' 
as Stendhal was fond of saying. There may however be other 
persons as much in need of instruction as the writer instruction 
as to the precise goal or purport of the labours of so many 
distinguished men. 

5. Visual Images. 

The word * visualise ' has been given a metaphorical extension 
so that it is often used for ' to think of something in any concrete 
fashion '. There is no harm in this, of course, unless it leads us 
to suppose that we cannot think concretely without using visual 
or other images. But in fact it is possible, for many people, to 
think with the utmost particularity and concreteness and yet to 
make no use of visual images at all. Sometimes other, non-visual, 
imagery is being used instead. Many people think they are 
using visual imagery when, in fact, if they examined the matter 
more closely, they would discover that kinaesthetic imagery of 
movements of the eyeballs has taken its place. But it is also 
possible to think concretely without any imagery of any kind, or 
at least (for this point is disputed) without imagery corresponding 
at all closely to what is being thought of. (This point is not 
disputed.) The imagery we use (if we do use any) may be very 
sketchy, vague and incoherent, yet our thought may be rich, 
detailed and coherent. 1 

1 Dogmatic assertions to the contrary are common. 'Thus in 
reading poetry one of the first necessities is to visualise, to see clearly 
every picture as it is presented by the poet. Without visualising the 
poet's words the reader in no sense has before him that which the 
poet had at the time of writing. Nor can he in any full sense share 


Confusion and prejudice on this point are chiefly due to a too 
simple idea of what is necessary for mental representation. Images, 
we may think (and traditionally psychologists, too, have thought) 
must be required, if absent sights and sounds and so forth are to 
be represented in our minds ; because images are the only things 
sufficiently like sights and sounds and so forth to represent them. 
But this is to confuse representation with resemblance. In order 
that a may represent A it is not necessary for a to resemble A 
or be a copy of A in any respec^ whatever. It is enough if a has 
the same effect upon us, in some respect, as A . Obviously a and A 
here have both the effect of making us utter the same sound if we 
read them out and they have other effects in common. 

This is in outline the way in which words represent things. 
In order that a word should represent a thing the word cow 
represents a cow it is not necessary that it should call up an 
image of a cow that is like a cow ; it is enough if it excite any 
considerable set of those feelings, notions, attitudes, tendencies 
to action and so forth that the actual perception of a cow may 
excite. 1 This clearly is a more general sense of * representation ' 
which includes * representation ' in the sense of * being a copy J 
as a special case. 

Words on the whole now, however it may have been in the 

his emotion.' J. G. Jennings Metaphor in Poetry, p. 82. The writer's 
intention here is excellent, we must read poetry receptively, but his 
knowledge of psychology is insufficient. 

1 The most fundamental sense of representation (or meaning) is, I 
believe, different from this, which may, however, serve sufficiently 
well to indicate the case against the copy theory of representation. 
(And against Wittgenstein's principle, for example.) What is given 
above is, roughly, Mr Bertrand Russell's (1921) view of representation. 
The Analysis of Mind, pp. 210, 244. My own view is that a word 
represents a thing, not by having similar effects to the thing, but by 
having things of that kind among its causes. His view, in brief, was 
in terms of 'causal efficacy,' mine in terms of causal origin. In his 
Outline of Philosophy (1927), however, Mr Russell combines both 
theories (p. 56) with a distinction between active meaning, that of a 
man uttering the word, and passive meaning, that of a man hearing 
the word. He suggests that Mr Ogden and myself in writing The 
Meaning of Meaning neglected passive meaning. I think this is a 
misunderstanding, but we do consider active meaning the more 
fundamental of the two, since it explains much in passive meaning 
and because consideration of it throws more light upon the growth 
and development of language. Incidentally we cannot accept Mr 
Russell's summary of our view : ' It says that a word and its meaning 
have the same causes'. It says, on the contrary, that the meaning is 
the cause of the word, in a not quite usual sense of * cause'. (Cf. The 
Meaning of Meaning > 2nd Ed., p. 55.) The two accounts need not be 
incompatible. They yield, however, two distinct kinds of meaning 
and it may on occasion be very important to separate them. 


remote past, do not resemble the things they stand for. None 
the less traces of resemblance in the form of onomatopoeia and, 
more important perhaps, tongue and lip gesture can be noticed. 
We can grant some part of the effect of words in poetry to these 
resemblances if we are careful not to overwork them. For the 
representative and evocative power of words comes to them more 
through not resembling what they stand for than through resembling 
it. For the very reason that a word is not like its meaning, it 
can represent an enormously wide range of different things. 
Now an image (in so far as it represents by being a copy) can only 
represent things that are like one another. A word on the other 
hand can equally and simultaneously represent vastly different 
things. It can therefore effect extraordinary combinations of 
feelings. A word is a point at which many very different 
influences may cross or unite. Hence its dangers in prose 
discussions and its treacherousness for careless readers of poetry, 
but hence at the same time the peculiar quasi-magical sway of 
words in the hands of a master. Certain conjunctions of words 
through their history partly and through the collocations of 
emotional influences that by their very ambiguity they effect 
have a power over our minds that nothing else can exert or 

It is easy to be mysterious about these powers, to speak of the 
* inexplicable ' magic of words and to indulge in romantic reveries 
about their semantic history and their immemorial past. But it 
is better to realise that these powers can be studied, and that 
what criticism most needs is less poeticising and more detailed 
analysis and investigation. 



THE following figures (given in percentages) are rough estimates 
only, no precision being, under these conditions, attainable. No 
reliance should be placed in them and they are intended only as 
an indication of the voting. In any case, since the reasons for 
liking and disliking the poems are so various, no numerical 
estimate could have much significance. 

Favourable. Unfavourable. Non-committal. 
Poem I 45 37 18 

II 5 1 43 6 

/// 30 42 28 

M IV 53 42 5 

V 5 2 35 13 

VI 3 1 59 I0 

VII 54 3 1 15 

VIII 19 66 15 

IX 48 41 ii 

X 37 36 27 

XI 31 42 27 

44 33 23 

5 92 3 




Poem I. From Festus, by PHILLIP JAMES BAILEY (1816-1902). 
Published in 1839. 

Poem II. Spring Quiet (1847), by CHRISTINA ROSSETTI (1830- 
1894). The word ' go ' (as the third word in the third line) 
was accidentally omitted in the version given to the writers 
of the protocols. 

Poem HI. JOHN DONNE (1573-1631). Holy Sonnets VII. 
Probably composed in 1618. The modernised spelling was 
adopted in the interests of the experiment. 

Poem IV. From More Rough Rhymes of a Padre , by the Rev. 
G. A. STUDDERT KENNEDY (" Woodbine Willie "). Pub- 
lished by Hodder & Stoughton. 

A reference to the War in the first line of the second verse, 
which runs in the original : 

" But there's winter of war in the evening," 

was disguised by me, and a fifth verse was omitted. I am 
greatly in debt to the author, who wrote : " You can use 
any of my poems for any purpose you like. The criticisms 
of them could not be more adverse and slaughterous than 
my own would be." 

Poem V. From The Harp-Weaver (1924), by EDNA ST VINCENT 
MILLAY. By permission of Messrs Harper & Brothers. 

Poem VI. Spring and Fall, to a young child (1880), by GERARD 
MANLEY HOPKINS (1845-1889). By permission of Mr 
Humphrey Milford. 

Poem VII. The Temple from Parentalia and other Poems, by 
J. D. C. PELLEW. The author wrote in reply to my request 
to be allowed to use this poem : " It is pleasant to know 
that I am serving the cause of science ! " By permission of 
Mr Humphrey Milford. 



Poem VIII. Piano, by D. H. LAWRENCE. From Collected Poems 
(1928). By permission of Mr Martin Seeker. 

Poem IX. For the Eightieth Birthday of George Meredith, by 
ALFRED No YES. I took the version used from the anthology 
Shorter Lyrics of the Twentieth Century (1900-1922), selected 
by Mr W. H. Davies. The final version (see p. 119) is 
published by Messrs Wm. Blackwood & Sons. 

Poem X. By G. H. LUCE, in Cambridge Poetry, An Anthology 
(1900-1913). Published by W. Heffer & Sons. 

Poem XL George Meredith (1828-1909), by THOMAS HARDY. 
By permission of Messrs Macmillan & Co. 

Poem XII. From Ivory Palaces (1925), by WILFRED ROWLAND 
CHILDE. Published by Messrs Kegan Paul & Co. 

Poem XIII. In the Churchyard at Cambridge, by HENRY WADS- 
WORTH LONGFELLOW. Cambridge, Massachusetts, of course. 



The reader is advised not to make himself 
acquainted with the contents of this 
Appendix until Part II has been studied. 



lus, 271. 
Alpinism, 122. 
Ambiguity, 34-45- 
American Language, 28, 115, 167. 
Aristotle, 12. 
Arnold, Matthew, 350. 
Assumption, 273-75- 

Bain, A., 257. 

" Beautiful," 221, 357-60, 

Behaviourism, 322, 323. 

Belief, 185, 271, 300. 

Belief, Intellectual versus emotional, 


Bergson, 255, 268. 
Blake, 164, 272, 302. 
Blood, B. P., 13- 
Bradley, A. C., 188. 
Brooke, Rupert, 73, 79. 
Browne, Sir Thomas, 88. 
Browning, 65, 73, 78, 85, 88, 150. 
Bubis, 177. 
Burns, 60, 355. 
Butler, Bishop, 153. 
Butler, Samuel, 166. 
Byron, 258, 262. 

Cacophony, 135. 

Carroll, Lewis, 140. 

Chemistry, 158. 

Chinese Poetry, 1 36. 

Coleridge, 199, 272, 277, 3 2 3- 

Colour, 124. 

Common sense, 197. 

Confucius, 279, 284, 292, 323. 

Concentration, 173, 20O, 214. 

Conrad, 325. 

Construing, 14, 76, 3 12 - 

Cowper, 176. 

Critical * morals,' 179, 190, *9 6 > 201, 

267, 295. 
Critical superstitions, 299. 

Dante, 271. 

Decimal numbering, 22. 
Decline in speech, 338-40. 
Definition, 217, 219, 343 345- 
Dictionary, 327. 

Discussion, technique of, 5- 

Doctrinal adhesion, 16. 

Doctrine, 71. 

Donne, 271. 

Doyle, Conan, 356. 

Drinkwater, 233. 

Dryden, 19, 176, 206, 279, 355 

Eddington, 225. 

Edison, 339. 

Eliot, T. S., 285, 318. 

Emotive functions, 210, 353. 

Emotive reading, 129. 

English, teaching of, 333-35- 

Euripides, 271, 

Evans Wentz, W. Y., 7, 235. 

Fatigue, 317. 

Feeling, 181, 209, 326, 329-32. 

Flecker, 6 1. 

Form, 14, 55, 217, 233, 300. 

P'reud, 204, 322, 339. 

Galileo, 299. 

Gautama Buddha, 253, 323. 

Genius, 249. 

Grammar, 36, 337, 338. 

Gray, 206, 252, 265. 

Grenfell, Julian, 27. 

Habitual responses, 241. 
Hadow, Sir H., 106, 
Hardy, 253, 271. 
Hemans, Mrs, 166. 
History of Criticism, 8. 
Hobbes, 179. 
Homer, 272. 
Honours Degree, 4. 
Hopkins, C. M., 292. 
Housman, A. E., 58, 141. 
Hugo, Victor, 28, 355. 
Hutchinson, A. S. M., 88. 
Huxley, Aldous, 88. 

Ibsen, 88. 
Idea, 247. 

Imagery, 15, 49. 96, 124, I2< 
139, 168, 235-37, 247. 




Immaturity, 310. 

Influenza, 257. 

Inhibition, 16, 43, 267. 

Intention, 181, 204, 205, 326, 355'57- 

Interpretation, 6. 

Intrinsic character of words, 134, 138, 


Introspection, 217. 
Intuition, 191, 287. 

James, Henry, 356. 

James, William, 274. 

Japanese gardening, 40. 

Jennings, J. G., 363. 

Johnson, Dr, 127, 153, 206, 253, 339. 

Judgment and choice, 301. 

Keats, 28, 68, 69, 73, 84, 176, 238. 
King Chien Kim, 283. 
Kipling, 143. 
Kissing, 257. 

Landor, 279. 
Lamartine, 60. 
Latin verse, 226. 
Lawrence, D. H., 113, 115. 
Legge, James, 279, 283. 
Literalism, 191. 
Logic, 149, 187, 217, 273. 
Longfellow, 166, 168. 
Love, falling in, 156. 
Lucretus, 271. 
Lyall, L. A., 283. 
Lynd, Robert, 27. 

Mackail, 188. 
Marvell, 64. 
Maudlin states, 257. 
Meaning, 7, 43, 180, 237, 300. 
Mechanical inventions, 320. 
Mental navigation, II. 
Metaphor, 97, 107, 221-23. 
Metaphor, mixed, 140, 193-98. 
Metre, 24, 26, 48, 109, 112, 158, 170, 

190, 225-34. 

Milton 46, 49, 73, '33. 232, 316, 355. 
Misunderstanding, 130, 189, 329, 337, 

Mnemonic irrelevances, 15, 27, 59, 

107, 131, 174, 237. 
Morality, 37, 174. 
Music, 105, 107 127. 

Narcissism, 17, 251. 
Nashe, 1 68. 

* Need ' defined, 275, 286. 
Newton, 336. 
Nobility, 22. 

Obscurity, 63, 74, 82, 85, 141, 166. 

Ogden, C. K., 363. 

Onomatopoeia, 135. 

Originality, 206. 

Origin of stock responses, 245-49. 

Paget, Sir Richard, 353. 

Paraphrase, 191, 216, 223. 

Pathetic fallacy, 95, 139, 157. 

Patmore Coventry, 149. 

Pavlov, 286. 

Personal emotion, 147. 

Personification, 198. 

Phatic communion, 185, 318. 

Piaget, 199, 324. 

Pierce, C. S., 271. 

Pieron, 302. 

Poetic diction, 160. 

Poetic fictions, 272-74. 

Political speeches, 185. 

Pope, 176, 204, 208, 251, 356. 

Preconceptions, 17, 148, 300, 314. 

Prejudice, 93, 

1 Pretty,' 220. 

Profundity, 221, 222. 

Projectile adjectives, 211, 220, 357-60. 

Projection, 199, 211, 220, 229. 

Prose, 340. 

Prosody, 361-62. 

Prudential speech, 324. 

Psychical relativity, 213. 

Psychology, 321-333. 

Psychology, prejudice against, 322. 

Psychology, uselessness of, 321. 

Rapture, 147. 

Read, Herbert, 285. 

Reviewing, 5. 

Rhymes, 33, 34, 44, 84. 

Rhythm, 58, 66, 77, 89, 140, 225-34 

318, 360-62. 
Rhythm defined, 227. 
Ritual, 290. 

Romantic, 28, 29, 56, 60, 139. 
Rossetti, Christina, 149. 
Rossetti, D. G., 68. 
Rousseau, 282. 
Ruskin, 204. 
Russell, Bertrand, 256, 324, 363. 

Sampson, G., 334. 

Seami, Motokiyo, 252, 349. 

Schiller, 323. 

Self-abasement, 17. 

Semantics, 210, 219. 

Sense, 181, 209, 326. 

Sentimental, as abuse, 255. 

Sentimental, and past experience, 261. 



Sentimental, as qualitative, 259. 
Sentimental, as quantitative, 257, 268, 
Sentimental, and the war, 260. 
Sentimentality, 16, 27, 53, 55, 57, 61, 

88, 105, 109, 112, 114, 116, 300. 
Sentimentality, cure of, 270. 
Sex differences, 311. 
Shakespeare, 3, 26, 28, 44, 143, 157, 

212, 250, 339. 
Shelley, 26, 28, 57, 121, 131, 137, 140, 

142, 147, 156, 176, 208, 238, 271, 

Sincerity, 56, 57, 77, 94, 114, 170, 

280-91, 300, 301. 

Sincerity and self-completion, 285. 
Sincerity and self-deception, 280. 
Sincerity and sophistication, 280. 
Slow reading, 234. 
Sonnenschein, E. A., 360-61. 
Sonnet form, 45, 75, 76, 77, 127. 
Southcott, Joanna, 169. 
Spencer, Stanley, 49. 
Spinoza, 274. 

Standardisation, 248, 340, 347. 
Statement, 186, 296, 353. 
Stendhal, 156, 328. 
Stevenson, R. L., 143, 292. 
Stock Responses, 15, 99, 101, 108, 

121, 128, 131, 163 240-54, 313. 
Stock Rhythms, 243. 
Stout, 322. 
Style, 207, 233. 
Subject, 58, 263, 297, 298. 
Subjectivity, 347. 
Swinburne, 64, no, 129, 158, 194, 

208, 265. 
Symbolism, 155? 15^* 

Technical presuppositions, 16, 34, 47, 
134, W J 5i) 171, 172, 264, 294- 

Ten critical difficulties, 13-17, 179. 

Theology, 44, 47. 

Thoroughness, 4. 

Thought, 249, 329-30. 

Tone, 181, 206, 326. 

Tradition, 315. 

Turner, 134. 

Unconscious fright, 45. 
Unconscious technique, 186, 190. 
Understanding, 13, 67, 81, 93, 213, 

Uselessness of principles, 296, 298. 

Versatile Verses, 23. 

Vigney, Alfred de, 94. 

Virgil, 270. 

Visualisation, 132, 235-37, 362-64. 

Wagner, 155. 
Walcy, Arthur, 252, 349. 
Ward, 322. 
Watson, 323. 

Wilcox, Klla Wheeler, 3, 207, 316. 
Wittgenstein, 363. 

Wordsworth, 25, 26, 60, 79, 99, 137 
I43 I5> I5 8 J 76, 199, 259.